The downturn has accomplished what a generation of designers and planners could not: it has turned back the tide of suburban sprawl. In the wake of the foreclosure crisis many new subdivisions are left half built and more established suburbs face abandonment. Cul-de-sac neighborhoods once filled with the sound of backyard barbecues and playing children are falling silent. Communities like Elk Grove, Calif., and Windy Ridge, N.C., are slowly turning into ghost towns with overgrown lawns, vacant strip malls and squatters camping in empty homes. In Cleveland alone, one of every 13 houses is now vacant, according to an article published Sunday in The New York Times magazine.
The demand for suburban homes may never recover, given the long-term prospects of energy costs for commuting and heating, and the prohibitive inefficiencies of low-density construction. The whole suburban idea was founded on disposable spending and the promise of cheap gas. Without them, it may wither. A study by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech predicts that by 2025 there will be as many as 22 million unwanted large-lot homes in suburban areas.
I can't find a post now, but I know I've talked about this possible effect of the housing crisis. Essentially, as property values plummet in the suburbs and rise in the cities, we may see a reversal in our population as the working poor are displaced from the cities and move out into McMansions divided into apartments, while the wealthy and middle class relocate to the cities. The process has a feedback loop built into it, as the presence of brown people scares more whites out of the suburbs and the higher property values in the cities continue to climb as the wealthy move in and their tax dollars contribute to better school systems, more attention from the city council's road repairing committee, etc., thus making them even less affordable for the poor.
I hate the suburbs. I hate everything about the suburbs. They're wasteful. Their relationship to the cities they rely on is parasitic. They're the products of residual, unconscious racism/classism. They're conformist, insular, and nostalgic for a bubble gum Eden that never existed. They're plastic in both the literal and figurative senses, all packaging and presentation, and made primarily of petroleum. As much as I hate the suburbs and wish people would wake up and move the hell out of them, perhaps the only situation worse than all the rich people living out in the 'burbs is all the working poor living out there, miles and miles from their jobs, from everything, with little or no public transportation, trying to divide those flimsy, plastic castles into apartments. If it becomes clear that this is going to happen, cities and states need to be scrupulous about preparing the suburbs for the change by improving their transportation infrastructure and getting serious about home inspection, or this is not going to go well.