Suburban Slums?

There is an awesome article in The Atlantic titled The Next Slum? It is a fascinating article that discusses the demise and potential demise of some suburbs and exurbs nationwide. It talks about urban renewal and the effects of home foreclosures (many McMansions) in the suburbs.

Here is an interesting quote from the article (hat tip to Brownstoner):

“For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. 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

33 Comment

  • “Will many of DC

  • One factor is gas prices–they will only increase, and it will be a factor, too. Families who live in exurbs will be hit the hardest. So while at the time of purchase these owners may have told themselves they got ‘more home’ for their money by living in deepest MD and VA, it may not be that clear in the long run…

  • There will always be a high demand for people to live in the burbs due to their kids.

    Also, lets not forget. There are a lot of jobs in the burbs now.

  • How many people can afford to live in the city??? Half a million dollars for a house doesn’t go far around here.

  • Americans have enjoyed driving their cars & mowing their lawns since the 50’s — it seems like it would take a long time to reverse the direction of the cycle. For the past 3 years, I lived in Washington and worked in Rockville. I admit I liked those bungalows in Garrett Park and Capitol Heights, MD, along the 5 bus route… so peaceful and “away from it all”.

    But, instead of moving out of DC, I found a new job.

  • Let’s hope that DC continues to grow and thrive.
    Since it is the nations capital, maybe it shouldn’t have one of the highest crime rates in the country!!!!

  • If suburban sprawl can be likened to a pendulum then I would submit that it also resembles a child’s swingset, when growth occurs responsibly during a period of responsible consumption and production it may swing freely between a suburban and urban setting where certain amenities, prices, and demographics will shift predictably upon a pendulum. However, its hard to argue that the growth of the DC metropolitan area has been at all responsible or planned. Centralized community centers of retail, commercial, and residential properties have been thrown out the window in favor of the ‘American Dream’ and now that the national economy is balanced upon the precipice of our little white suburban fences I feel that the upward momentum of suburban sprawl is set for a violent and sudden fall in the same manner a swingset’s chain gives way in the face of a child’s naive and ambitious upward forces.

  • Those are quite possibly the longest 3 sentences I’ve ever read!

    (and still not sure what it means).

  • read the article before you comment guys, jeez!

    the article doesn’t say suburbs will go away, it says that much of the crap new construction aimed at lower end middle class buyers will face the same fate as the more urban neighborhoods the current buyers are fleeing. So while northeast DC becomes more affluent Prince Williams county will become less so. You can see that pattern already.

  • Chris, amount of driving is not very price elastic. Sure, SUV sales go down (as they should for so many reasons anyway). So, gas prices are probably not a big factor in decisions where to live. Especially since gas is so ridiculously cheap still here. I wish it was taxed more heavily like in Europe and many places elsewhere. And, yes, I do own a car so it would hit me too.

  • You can certainly see that happening around here. Prior to moving to DC I lived in Fairfax, Alexandria, and Arlington, and all of them had pockets of poverty and crime density. There are especially a lot of illegal immegrants settling in those suburban areas. My ex used to live in Shirlington, and whenever I used to drive to work from her house in the morning there were bunches of latinos standing on the side of the roads looking for work.

  • I bet driving is plenty elastic for aging empty-nesters and one- or two-person boomer households on fixed incomes. According to the article, people in this category have a preference for higher-density lifestyles, which I guess I can believe. I actually reckon that these people will go where they feel *safest*, and those large-lot exurbs would not feel safe at all in a future where they’re occupied at five times the current density by the economically marginalized; in an era of really high energy costs, falling property values and falling municipal budgets, areas like that will be very difficult to police.

  • In general, studies show that driving is not very gas price elastic overall/accross the whole population. There are of course exceptions. The choise of a vehicle is more sensitive to gas prices. See how SUV sales have dropped even with the current moderate gas prices.

    Btw, in some European countries the whole vehicle taxation regime too is now directly linked to their fuel efficiency/emissions.

    I am getting off topic here.. sorry. 🙂

  • I think we are missing the point in discussing the price of gas a factor in the demise of the suburbs. Instead, the issue is the increase in traffic and the amount of time it takes to commute from the suburbs. Traffic has increased continually over the last 10 years and has reached a level that has made people re-think their ways.

  • I haven’t read the article yet but look forward to it. I’ve believed for some time that the suburbs and esp. exurbs are the ghettos of the future. Though maybe that’s not quite accurate, maybe ghost towns is better. It’s not like poor people are going to move there when the richer can’t afford the commutes anymore. Energy is obviously going to keep getting more expensive, possibly sharply so in the near future, and many areas like way-the-hell-out Virginia don’t have much in the way of services, retail, etc nearby. If you’ve bought a house or condo in a walkable area of DC consider yourself very wise and/or lucky.

    I suggest reading James Kunstler for those who haven’t. He has great and well-known books on urbanism, as well as a very insightful blog:

    Just be prepared to be more worried than before you read him…

  • First off, Jello Biafra told me this same story after a spoken word show in 1986(!!!!!!) I couldn’t believe it until I saw the clapboard townhouses going up in Gaithersburg. Then my mother got mugged at a Gaithersburg store and the kids just rode their bikes back into the townhouses and disappeared. The police told her that street crime was rampant in Shady Grove- all this was at the latest, 1994. I have many friends in PG County who tell me the same story, that PG County street crime is insance. Alexandria street crime, particularly around the Route 1 corridor is pretty bad too.

    One of our good friends lives in Montgomery county in a bungalow neighborhood and said that there was a Latin-gang-related shooting(!!!) in a $600k house and that her daughter’s school went from under 10% Spanish speaking to 50% spanish dominant in a matter of 5 years- the school with high test scores where they bought their house is in the bottom 5 performing elementary schools in the county. I think Prince William, Fairfax, Arlington, Alexandria are probably even more affected. While racism plays heavy into these interpretations, there is something to be said for buying a house because of the achievement culture in MoCo and ending up with a group of manual laborers parked in front of the house of the guy who owns the company.

    The suburbs with old, brick construction will still be popular and where I grew up houses are selling for 1.5 to 3 million, but I also saw desperate to sell places going for $700-800k and Mt Pleasant houses selling for $800-1 mil.

  • Okay–how the heck did you end up talking with Jello Biafra about housing?!!!

  • dc-er: i love how you connect the increase in spanish speakers to the school’s decreased performance. very astute! and really, why do manual laborers have to hide- they are so offensive because they work with their hands? we need them just as much as the suits right? barf to your superiority complex- shove your dante and your jello!

  • So are all Latinos and Latinas the reason Arlington and some other places are going down the tube? Some of the people here rely too much on stereotypes, sometimes I feel like I am reading rants and raves on Craigslist. Anonymous 4:27, you wrote:

    “There are especially a lot of illegal immegrants settling in those suburban areas.”

    First of all, how did you know they were illegal? Did you ask for their documents? Do you consider political refugees illegals?

    Second, this perhaps “illegal” here learned to speak and write English in a Latin country and can tell you that “inmegrants” is mispelle; it ought to read “immigrants.” Because I am not going to fall on the game of stereotyping here and say that all Americans do not know how to spell their mother tongue, I can only give you some advice: read.

  • I’m not even going to comment on the hispanic issue (some people sound so ignorant without even realizing it). All I have to say is that oil is going to disappear (and efficient technologies aren’t nearly ready on a mass scale anytime soon, and that many of those technologies require oil to produce) and that we’re all probably going to have to live in more urban settings. And this is where the trend is going already. More people want it. That’s why it’s so expensive in DC now, and even though many people don’t get it now, they will within the next decade. is a good site to visit on this issue. And i know people say that suburbs will always be in demand because of families, but look around the world at urban cities and towns of first world nations. And then look at all of the strollers in the Columbia Heights station filled with children of all races. And then look at DC before the riots when it had a population of over 800,000 and was filled with families. Realize that if this trend of cars and sprawl continues that that’s basically saying f*** you to our children and grandchildren and their friends.

    Okay, now feel free to attack this comment. 🙂

  • Frankly, sometimes I feel a lot of people also read much more into a given sentence than it says.

  • To quote myself, “While racism plays heavy into these interpretations”

    No one can claim that anything I said is suspect when I openly discuss racism as an issue. Anonymous is nothing but a playa hata. Jello always talked about suburban culture and was very focused on that, he was the first person to point out how troubled these suburban slums were, which I think is prescient.

    But, if anyone believes that a child who has been reading books in English since age 3 or 4 where both parents have master’s degrees or PhDs in MoCo, which is typical in southern MoCo (seriously, PhDs are more common in Bethesda than anywhere else in America) performs at the same level of a child who only learned to read Spanish and only learned to speak Spanish through age 3 or 4… What kids do you know? I saw a class recently where all the English-speaking kids did the Pledge of Allegiance perfectly, but this group of Latin kids just fidgeted.

    If they can’t read English in Kindergarten then they drag the test scores down. I know, through DC’s Even Start program, that the teachers are desperate to reach out to the Latin community in DC to repeat over and over again that their kids need to be able to read and write English by Kindergarten. Some people still believe that reading is taught in first and second grades, but that’s not true anymore.

  • DCer,
    How do you respond to the success of Oyster School — great test scores, and at least 50% of the students have to be native Spanish speakers? It’s not Spanish that is the problem. Certainly, privileged kids are going to be more likely to perform well in school than kids who don’t have those advantages. But blaming Spanish seems like quite a narrow way to frame the issue.

  • it’s “misspelled”

  • a true “playa” doesn’t need to name drop

  • How do you respond to the success of Oyster School

  • Actually, the daughter of a friend is in a Chinese Immersion school in MoCo, so some kids are also graded in how well they speak Mandarin.

  • DCer,

    I don’t know whether your kids go to Oyster. I don’t know whether you have kids. Nothing in my post touched on your (possible) offspring. In fact, it’s irrelevant to my argument. My point is simply that blaming lack of educational success on Spanish is flawed.

    The tests I’m referring to re: Oyster are standardized tests in English, comparing Oyster students to other DC students.
    (They’re posted on the greatschools . net site)

    Thus the native Spanish speaking students at Oyster are far outpacing the majority of their native-English speaking peers in DC at a rate comparable to elementary schools like Murch (regarded as one of the best elementary schools in DC, with relatively wealthy, English-speaking parents).

  • thanks for backing up your argument with some stats AJ.

  • AJ, you’re trying to say that the two elementary schools in the richest neighborhoods in DC score similarly? Yeah, really, is that supposed to be news? That’s your big news. Not one person has countered anything I wrote yet with all the phony grandstanding. And you can’t counter it because I’m living the DC education dream people, and I know of what I speak.

  • DCer my personal experience with Oyster was with low-income friends that sent their kids there. I believe there is a significant percentage of low-income students- assumedly from outside the boundary or close to the boundary. A post article from 2006 reports that 30% are low income (usually 200-250% of poverty line). I don’t know about Murch but Oyster has traditionally been income diverse.

  • the post reports that the % of low income students at oyster has varied since 2000 between 30-50%. don’t know about murch. i don’t think the neighborhood has everything to do with it as parents used to be able to send kids outside their neigborhood (low income friends got their daughter into oyster this way). so just because a school is in a rich neighborhood doesn’t mean the students are all rich. I think AJ has countered you in a significant way. The standardized english tests for oyster are very high- even with the 50% esl students represented.

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