Since Dana and I were both discussing the subject of rising housing costs and gentrification yesterday, I should point readers to Christopher Leinberger's excellent piece in this month's Atlantic about the effects of the increased demand for housing in urban areas:
Pent-up demand for urban living is evident in housing prices. Twenty years ago, urban housing was a bargain in most central cities. Today, it carries an enormous price premium. Per square foot, urban residential neighborhood space goes for 40 percent to 200 percent more than traditional suburban space in areas as diverse as New York City; Portland, Oregon; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.
Leinberger goes on to predict that these trends will soon make the McMansions of America the next slums, as poor urban-dwellers are forced out to the exurbs. What I take issue with in this otherwise stunning piece is his assumption that as poorer people take over the suburbs, they will inevitably become riddled by crime and decay. Crime and decay will come if there are no economic opportunities there. People have historically moved to the city so that they can have access to jobs and be able to get by without a car, which does in fact make exile to the suburbs a major concern for lower income people and lends to the likelihood of rapid decline if those opportunities are absent. But if there are jobs there, or a means of accessing jobs elsewhere, decay doesn't have to be imminent. Which makes his prediction that suburbs with a central core and access to rail transit will be the only ones to avoid this fate even more important. Infrastructure can prevent the bleak picture Leinberger paints.
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