There’s a great new article in The Atlantic about the trend towards urban living and the likelihood of exurbs becoming low-income neighborhoods. The takeaway is that if you own property in a place like Marysville or Black Diamond, you should sell.
I’m not the best person to critique the article, because it entirely reinforces my prejudices, but I’ve always thought that the hollowing out of our inner cities has been a peculiarly American product of mid-20th-century racism and the breakdown in law enforcement in the 1960s. As those causes recede, we’ll probably end up with a more European-style configuration where the rich people live in the city center and the poor are warehoused out on the fringes.
But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay…
The experience of cities during the 1950s through the ’80s suggests that the fate of many single-family homes on the metropolitan fringes will be resale, at rock-bottom prices, to lower-income families—and in all likelihood, eventual conversion to apartments.
But don’t panic, Bellevue residents:
Of course, not all suburbs will suffer this fate. Those that are affluent and relatively close to central cities—especially those along rail lines—are likely to remain in high demand. Some, especially those that offer a thriving, walkable urban core, may find that even the large-lot, residential-only neighborhoods around that core increase in value. Single-family homes next to the downtowns of Redmond, Washington; Evanston, Illinois; and Birmingham, Michigan, for example, are likely to hold their values just fine.
A little further out, though, oy:
But much of the future decline is likely to occur on the fringes, in towns far away from the central city, not served by rail transit, and lacking any real core. In other words, some of the worst problems are likely to be seen in some of the country’s more recently developed areas—and not only those inhabited by subprime-mortgage borrowers. Many of these areas will become magnets for poverty, crime, and social dysfunction.
This has implications for transit planning. For one thing, effective high-capacity transit is a crucial amenity in those dense urban centers; to not have one is a debit against the city’s quality of life in the same way that a giant chemical plant in the middle of downtown would be. Additionally, the people that will absolutely require transit — who are now the urban poor — may become the “periphery poor,” creating new challenges for transit planners. So perhaps those long-haul transit services, so derided by The Stranger and West Seattlites, may be serving the strongest future markets for transit.
BTW, Seattlest beat me to posting about this by quite a bit.