Suburbia is dying, or so we're told

How amusing it is to see the suburbs getting attacked yet again. It usually comes from leftist elites that look down their noses at anything so middle class and bourgeois as the suburbs. References to the suburbs by such folks range from condescension to outright ridicule. They would have it that  only lower life forms want what the suburbs have: open space, better schools, etc.

The latest attack came from the direction of the New York Times, in an article called "The Death of the Fringe Suburb." In it, Christopher B. Leinberger, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and professor of practice in urban and regional planning at the University of Michigan, argues:

DRIVE through any number of outer-ring suburbs in America, and you’ll see boarded-up and vacant strip malls, surrounded by vast seas of empty parking spaces. These forlorn monuments to the real estate crash are not going to come back to life, even when the economy recovers. And that’s because the demand for the housing that once supported commercial activity in many exurbs isn’t coming back, either.

By now, nearly five years after the housing crash, most Americans understand that a mortgage meltdown was the catalyst for the Great Recession, facilitated by underregulation of finance and reckless risk-taking. Less understood is the divergence between center cities and inner-ring suburbs on one hand, and the suburban fringe on the other.

It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse.

Wow. Not  financial institutions shennagans or the federal regs that pushed banks into making sub-par loans or the other stuff that we've been told?  Never mind the short sales and foreclosures in the cities.

Leinberger's assertion is ludicrous on its face. For those yearning for a more detailed response, turn to Joel Kotkin, executive editor of and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and an adjunct fellow of the Legatum Institute in London. In his response appearing in Forbes and NewGeography, he says:

Perhaps no theology more grips the nation’s mainstream media — and the planning community — more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration’s housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.”

Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.

Also of interest to Chicagoans, he finds:

In Chicago, the suburban trend was even greater. The outer suburbs and exurbs gained over a half million people while the inner suburbs stagnated and the urban core, the Windy City, lost some 200, 000 people.

Whatever the numbers say, and he's got plenty more, he's right on one thing: The anti-suburban mindset is a theology that predicts--in unvarnished hope--the demise of the suburbs. As a holder of a master's degree in urban affairs from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, I've seen it myself. It's a shame that some branches of social science have less to do with actual science than with a religious-like fervor.

Hat tip to Newsalert.



Leave a comment
  • "It was predominantly the collapse of the car-dependent suburban fringe that caused the mortgage collapse."

    It was more likely the over inflated housing prices. Hard to pay a $1500 to $2000 a month rent or mortgage on your "NEW" job that's paying you somewhere between minimum wage and $12 per hour.

    I live on the fringe out in Yorkville. Housing has died out here. Lone houses sitting out in what were once cornfields. Down the road from me a planned 90 home parcel on what was once a heavily wooded set of rolling hills died as soon as the last road to nowhere was paved. No homes were ever built.

    From Plainfield to Yorkville to Plano and north, there's talk of buying up those lone few houses on former farms and turning them back to corn and soy bean fields.

    This former city boy, rather than go running back to Chicago, is planning on moving even further out. Real estate is cheaper. Quite a few $10 per hour jobs out there. New job offers out of Naperville are going for $10 per hour and so are the new job offers out of Ottawa. One weekly full time pay check at that rate will cover the monthly rent or mortgage the further out you go, or real close to it.

    That's the way it should be.

    The current economy is doing everything possible to turn us all into $50 a day laborers. That right there is going to cause an even bigger collapse, across the board, in the next few years. I hope to be nowhere near the city when that happens.

  • I find this city versus suburb debate really tedious, and am of the opinion that it's often just insecure people trying to justify their own decision by denigrating others'.
    I have actually had suburbanites say to me in one breath that the only reason they moved out to the burbs was because they couldn't afford to raise a family in the city, and then follow up with "Of course, you can't possibly raise kids in the city", knowing that that's exactly what I'm doing. (My response these days is "Oh no, not with all those museums, art galleries, and stuff. Goodness no.")
    I sometimes long for a huge garden and wide open spaces, and don't really care where other people live. It's up to them and I wish everyone else would just get on with their own lives and leave everyone else to do the same.
    (Steps down off soapbox...)

  • "From Plainfield to Yorkville to Plano and north, there's talk of buying up those lone few houses on former farms and turning them back to corn and soy bean fields."

    Now that would be interesting. Know anyone who is talking seriously about that? (email me at if there is) Considering the price of corn, created by the continuing federal subsidies for growing it and the demand to use it for feedstock for ethanol, I wouldn't be surprised if there's more money--a lot more--in it than subdividing it for houses.

  • In reply to Dennis Byrne:

    I read a lot of the local papers and at different town/community meetings it keeps coming up. I don't know of any that are taking it seriously. I drive through and past them all the time and am always looking to see if it's happening.

    The community governments would prefer to see the developments finished for tax and income purposes, while community residents are tired of looking at roads to nowhere. Right now there's an awful lot of land that is generating nothing, monetarily. They do make decent wildlife habitat, which can be seen as a plus. There is also talk of letting some better quality pieces of land go that route.

    I'll keep an eye out locally and see if comes up again. I'll send you the info.

Leave a comment

  • Advertisement:
  • Advertisement:
  • ChicagoNow is full of win

    Welcome to ChicagoNow.

    Meet our bloggers,
    post comments, or
    pitch your blog idea.

  • Visit my new website

    I'm a freelance writer, editor and author. I can help you with a wide variety of projects. Check out my new website at

  • Subscribe to The Barbershop

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

  • Dennis Byrne’s Facebook Fan Page

  • Like me on Facebook

  • Our National Debt

  • Twitter

  • Tags

  • Recent Comments

  • /Users/dennisby/Desktop/trailer.mp4
  • Latest on ChicagoNow

  • Advertisement: