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December 13, 2007

« What Kind of Immigrants? | Main | If Immigrants Are What You Really Want ... »

This story from the Charlotte Observer (via Planetizen) suggests "the cities are the problem but everything's just rosy in suburbia" crowd has a lot to think about.

Charlotte City Council members say they're surprised to learn how far the city's starter-home suburbs have declined in just a few years. hey're calling for new efforts to revive dozens of subdivisions -- and at least one builder is pledging money and manpower to help."This hit everyone very quickly ...," Mayor Pat McCrory said Tuesday. "It's a serious problem with no magic pill, and it's going to take both the public and private sector to come up with solutions." It's about time politicians noticed, say some residents living in these neighborhoods, built over the past decade across northern Charlotte and in parts of the east and southwest.

"I feel like I'm living in an old ghetto," says Roscoe Henderson, who has watched his 4-year-old Peachtree Hills neighborhood crumble. "You never know when somebody's going to come kick your door in. And it seems like the city is just ignoring our problems."

Put this in context. Charlotte is a boom-town with strong appreciation over the past couple of decades, a diverse economy, and one of the States leading financial centers. It's the kind of region many rustbelt revivers and suburban-style boosters point to as a model. A recent Brookings study has shown the spread of poverty and other urba-style problems to suburbia. If this is happening in and around Charlotte, imagine what is happening in older, more hard hit regions.


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I was not cognizant of the fact that "everything's just rosy" away from the city. To assume that problems will just go away if we isolate ourselves by sitting on the 'benign lap' of suburbia is too infantile a notion. Urban problems have an impact on all of us regardless of the zip codes we claim.


Sounds like a good example of why "sustainable development" is something developers and local governments need to think more about. Cities have a lot of services and amenities that can aid in revitalizations that many subdivision suburbs do not.

This is an interesting development--I wonder if it will become a more widespread trend in the coming years.


Bri - You and me both. But there are other so-called "urbanists" out there who promote that way of thinking.


Many suburban homes were built as cheaply as possible to make them short term affordable. Therefore, after a few decades, they deteriorate and lack the charm to justify investment in rebuilding. In contrast, many city neighborhoods still have a stock of fundamentally sound, interesting homes that can benefit from extensive remodeling.

I fear that a lot of the new condo's and townhomes being built in some cities will have the same problems in a couple decades.


Fred - So nicely said. My CMU colleague, urban designer David Lewis once said, the suburbs (with their short shelf life) are the greatest urban redevelopment project in world history. Look at how so many older city neighborhoods - the ones that were not torn down - have been revitalized and restored from completely run down conditions. So much of the suburban stuff is schlock to begin with; it's falling apart within a few years of being built. Yes, you are also right about the new condos and loft-ettes being built in cities. One more thing: one hundred years ago we built great parks in cities and great public buildings, bridges and public spaces: Compare that with what is being built now.


Over the next decades I think many metro areas will see many suburban neighborhoods becoming the new ghettos. Those with more financial means will trend toward moving into higher density, more urbanized areas of the city loaded with amenities, maybe metro stops, and close proximity to work, clients, schools, etc. This gentrification, if that's the right word, will force many poorer people out to suburban areas where housing is cheaper.

(I discussed this in more detail in the blog entry on "moving away from the car-tropolis" earlier this week).

Michael R. Bernstein

Richard, crap has always been built. What you're observing is a survivor bias.

Michael Wells

Wendy's observation fits in Portland. The formerly cheap close in North & Northeast neighborhoods are gentrifying with Creative Class moving in, and the low income folks are moving to further out neighborhoods and suburbs with lower prices and rents. Unlike (I assume) Charlotte we haven't had a lot of sprawl of poorly built suburbs, so I don't think housing quality is the issue except as it relates to cheap rent.

I think another phenomenon is immigrants are moving to the suburbs. Around Portland the Asian engineers and Latino laborers both live in suburbs. Different suburbs to be sure. The assumption that suburbs would be/stay Anglo lily white is challenged many ways.

I wonder how much in Charlotte is crime and how much is racial fear? "I feel like I'm living in an old ghetto" may not reflect actual crime so much as difference. Loud Rap or street parties may be unsettling to some, but they're not crime. Portland's historic Black districts are becoming art districts and Black families are moving further out (ironically raising our ranking on the Creative Class integration scale).


Michael B - Touche. Time does indeed seem to do a reasonable job of ensuring that the crap bites the dust, although it sometimes does take some good stuff with it too.

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