Saturday, September 22, 2007

Some Suburbs Ending Even Before The End Of Suburbia

The documentary The End of Suburbia predicts that high energy prices will soon make our modern suburbs unlivable, or at least transform them into something other than isolated havens for single-family homeowners.

According to the WSJ, it's already happening to some places, but not because of the price of gas.

In 2004, Mark Spector and his wife, Deanna, paid $350,000 for a six-bedroom house in Bridgewater, a new development in Wesley Chapel, Fla., about 25 miles north of Tampa. They moved into their home and looked forward to meeting their neighbors.

Then Florida's once-feverish housing market started to cool. Investors who'd bought a large percentage of the properties in Bridgewater found they couldn't flip them for a quick profit, and brought in tenants, instead. By last year, Mr. Spector estimates, close to half of the residents in the subdivision of 750-plus homes were renters.

The result, Mr. Spector says: overgrown lawns, drug deals in the park and loud parties in the "frat houses" down the street. "You'll see some driveways with a dozen cars parked in the driveway and on the grass," he says.
It's kind of surprising how fast and easily a "good" suburb can come down with the ailments of older, more urbanized neighborhoods, isn't it? And I love the response of the developer to neighbors' complaints:
"We have no evidence that leads us to believe that rentals are the cause of the homeowner concerns."
I've met a few landlords who talk like that. But it's really true that homeowners can cause as many neighborhood problems as renters. Or even more:
Denise Bower, of Community Management, Inc., which manages 122 developments around Portland, Ore., says renters are often more responsive to complaints because they know they run the risk of losing their leases if they don't. "I have more problems with owners, by far," Ms. Bower says. "They get stubborn."
Suburbia isn't really ending yet; suburbs and exurbs still account for the vast majority of growth in the U.S. But suburbia ain't what it used to be. There are now more poor people in the suburbs than in cities. If you're hoping that a suburban location will protect you from typical urban problems like poverty, crime, drugs, and declining property values, it looks like that bet just isn't as good as it used to be.


Veronica Grossi said...

UNCG presented last semester a plan to grow towards the adjacent areas of the university campus in a sustainable manner (towards Walker street, for instance). How can this be possible if a chain such as WALLGREENS is allowed to be built in the corner of Spring Garden and Aycock? Have you seen this? Can we do anything to stop such an ugly environmentally unfriendly sight?

David Wharton said...

I don't know the details of the Walgreens, but if I remember right, that was a commercial lot already, and there's nothing in the city zoning ordinance that would prohibit the building of a drug store there.

It's very difficult to get big chains to alter their normal building template, and they tend to move fast enough in building that neighborhoods can't organize to deal with them.

The University doesn't have any control over off-campus property that it doesn't own.