Tuesday, March 04, 2008


The current Atlantic Monthly has a very interesting piece about the future of the exurbs. Actually, the article purports to also discuss the future of inner-ring suburbs, but it seems to me that they are actually identifying two separate phenomena in slum development. Therefore, I am focused on the exurbs.

In any case, it appears that in some areas where new tract housing was built on urban fringes, activity normally associated with inner cities has started to occur. People are seeing vacant houses stripped of copper wire (previously a ghetto phenomenon), and crime rapidly rising. This is attributed to the number of houses vacant after mortgage foreclosures, as well as the number of buildings never occuppied. Why won't these communities, or to be honest, farm fields full of houses, bounce back once the economy rights itself? Well, according to the author it is because, and I am simplifying here, people don't want to live in the exurbs anymore anyway. The baby boomers are dumping their suburban housing and moving into lofts in the inner city. There are not enough families out there to replace them. Consequently, these developments will end up being cheap housing for people with no other options.

Does the author have a point? Maybe. I mean, baby boomers do seem to be moving into buildings in the Loop, for instance. And some of the places that are "suburbs" now have never been suburbs in my life. Take Frankfort, Illinois. This used to be well beyond what anyone meant when they say suburbs. Now it is referred to as suburban Frankfort on the news. If you are looking at a house in a field 10 miles southwest of Frankfort and you work in the city, you are in commuting hell. I can see why people would decide not live there. Makes a lot of sense to me.

However, I have to say, I have doubts about these places as future slums. First, if they are a pain in the ass to get to in your Hummer, I bet they are a pain in the ass for poor people to get to. In addition, the lack of infrastructure (and stores, etc.) that will drive the middle class out will make poor people unlikely to live in the area. Slums may be food deserts, but they have some store that sells some food. Rolling Pines exurb has nothing. No stores, no nothing. I just don't see people fleeing the wild, wild West at Sacramento Blvd and Madison St to get cheap housing in New Lenox, or Frankfort.

I will say this though. If the author is right, social service agencies, municipal governments, and all of the other agencies that try to alleviate poverty will be hard-pressed to get to these new slum dwellers. There are not jobs in these areas, this is not transportation, and they are near nothing. Let's hope this author is wrong.

By the way, want to see some fun googling? Google the intersection of Damen Avenue and Madison Street in Chicago. That is the west edge of the House that Jordan Built. Use streetview to head west on Madison as far as you dare. Not good times.

UPDATE: An anonymous commentor via e-mail says:
I think poor people will live in places like that if they have no choice, because they already do. Look at places like Harvey, Ford Heights http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ford_Heights,_Illinois or Phoenix http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix%2C_Illinois . They are isolated from the city, present no opportunities for advancement, have no city services or places to even buy food and as much or more crime than the city, completely corrupt police and government and lousy schools and you need a car to get everywhere. It is the worst of all worlds. North Lawndale or Robert Taylor would be a step up. This is the shopping center in Harvey: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dixie_Square_Mall
This is the terrible situation I was talking about, but these places are not exurbs. These are (pretty) close-in suburbs, and I think that their situation is caused by different factors than the article was discussing. Still, imagine all of these problems, but in otherwise rural Kane county. Yikes!


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