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NYT- Fringe Suburbs Dying
Old 11-26-2011, 12:39 PM   #1
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NYT- Fringe Suburbs Dying

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/26/opinion/the-death-of-the-fringe-suburb.html
I have not been to enough cities recently to have any idea if this thesis, that demand is falling and values will fall in outer suburbs, while city core and inner ring suburbs will flourish and become more urban is generally correct. It seems to be correct in MetroSeattle.

Doing this in an intelligent way will likely require smart zoning, rapid transit, and a good working relationship between enlightened developers and local and national government. It will also require a loosening of the 1950s mandate that gasoline taxes and car tags revenues etc. be mostly spent on highways.

A giant shift is taking place toward the South Lake Union District. Maybe 15 years ago this was known only as the Denny Regrade. Paul Allen bought a lot of land there, and now almost every week another large high-end employer announces that it is moving there, or at least moving a big portion of ops there. Amazon, Google, even Microsoft have made big investments here. And housing is following. This is also where Whole Foods built its central city location.
Here is a short excerpt from an MS blogger about doing a stint in South Lake Union:

"For those just joining me, let's get up to speed here: I'm on assignment this week, working from Microsoft's South Lake Union office in Seattle. I'm being all jealous because the teams here are totally hiring, but I love my job in Redmond.
Yesterday I wrote about my amazing 10 minute non-520 in-city commute (!!!) and today I'm sniffing around the building to get a feel for what the space is like."

Recently we had a ballot issue regarding rapid transit across the I90 floating bridge between Seattle and Bellevue, WA. One big developer named Kemper Freeman wants to block a transit corridor across the Lake. Microsoft and other major Eastside employers want this rapid transit, to make their employees' commutes easier, and generally to ease the flow between both sides of Lake Washington. Freeman lost. There is no immediate plan to Link Transit to go east, as there are unfinished high priority extensions planned, and some funded, already. But it will happen.

Ha
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Old 11-26-2011, 12:44 PM   #2
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It ain't true in Buffalo, NY. Or Bellingham, WA, either. Their cores are drying up in spite of superficial governmental attempts to revitalize them. Government is more successful at driving business out of town.

Portland, OR, is growing in the core and in the outlying suburbs also. No clear picture of what is happening in Baku just yet.

I am surprised that demand and prices are falling in Seattle suburbs. Would this be outside of the national collapse of housing values?
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Old 11-26-2011, 12:50 PM   #3
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Washingtonians have fought mass transit investment for years. Maybe now employers can bring leadership and fresh thinking to change that.

Portland Metro has brought light rail almost to Clark County (Vancouver, WA) doorstep but WA doesn't want to provide (pay for) right of way across the river. What foolishness.
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Old 11-26-2011, 01:23 PM   #4
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This is a trend that I'm following with interest, but I'm not sure how it will play out.

Walkable/urban neighborhoods seem to have become more popular from what I read, I know the idea appeals to me after a lifetime living in suburbs. Suburbs, especially distant exurbs, were made possible by cheap gas and good roads. It seems clear cheap gas can't last forever, and it's not clear how we can afford to maintain sprawling infrastructure (seems we've fallen behind). Richard Florida is convinced we will all move back to cities and other more densely populated areas.

On the other hand, cities and urban areas are already more expensive than suburbs, most people already can't afford urban or downtown neighborhoods. If more people are looking for urban neighborhoods, they will only become even more expensive. That suggests we can't all move back into cities even if we want to. Joel Kotkin believes the US will evolve into mega-regions, around major cities, with many self-contained neighborhoods. IOW, close in suburbs with much higher 'walkscores.'

But no one seems to believe rural small towns or distant suburbs (where you have to jump in a car to do anything) have much of a future.

I don't know what to expect, but it will be interesting to watch. I do think population density will increase, but I don't know if it will happen in 10 years or 100. But I know I am hedging my bets on where my next home will be just in case.
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Old 11-26-2011, 01:32 PM   #5
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It's a reminder of how subsidized suburban living really was with cheap gas and flush budgets for road construction and maintenance. That train has left the station.
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Old 11-26-2011, 01:38 PM   #6
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All this suggests that real estate in a viable city center (not in the "donut" cities) will do better than in the suburban/exurban developments, and public transportation access (especially rail) will be at a premium.

When we moved I could not stomach the idea of living in the actual city, but we are in a nearby suburb (I have biked to downtown) and I made sure we ended up near a commuter rail line. I am lazy and drive to the station, but I could pretty easily bike to and from if need be (might not be too fun in the winter).
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Old 11-26-2011, 01:44 PM   #7
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When we moved I could not stomach the idea of living in the actual city, but we are in a nearby suburb (I have biked to downtown) and I made sure we ended up near a commuter rail line. I am lazy and drive to the station, but I could pretty easily bike to and from if need be (might not be too fun in the winter).
Yeah -- in the future I see "suburbs" close into the city, where the city is accessible by efficient and fast mass transit, as some of the most desirable -- and expensive -- out there. People still don't want to live in the city but the quality of life of the far suburbs -- hours-long commutes, huge gas bills -- is eroding as well.
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:00 PM   #8
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The article made a distinction between suburbs with virtually no amenities except a strip shopping center and those suburbs with a "town center".

I live in a suburb that is one of the latter kind. It has amenities and a town center. It has great schools, hospitals, a regional mall, parks, recreation, high tech jobs, and low tech jobs. One can also walk to grocery stores, drug stores, Starbucks, banks, restaurants, though most people would drive the half-mile or two to all these places. There is no public transportation though. That helps keep the riff-raff out.

But this area has wealth, too. This helps to keep it going. And affluence attracts affluence. This place isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Some of my colleagues live in one of those other suburbs: Just houses and a couple convenience stores. They are just places to sleep at night. Those kinds of suburbs will dry up, but one could've told you that years ago. No amenities; no growth; no long-term prospects; just a place to park your butt until you can afford to get out.
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:00 PM   #9
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Yeah -- in the future I see "suburbs" close into the city, where the city is accessible by efficient and fast mass transit, as some of the most desirable -- and expensive -- out there. People still don't want to live in the city but the quality of life of the far suburbs -- hours-long commutes, huge gas bills -- is eroding as well.
Describes the place we moved from. Even though I had great access to public transportation, the train pass was $400/month and municipal parking was $40/month. Plus I still had a mile walk when I got into the city center. Commute was extremely lengthy as well.

I think the gas price issue will prove not to be as big a deal as one might think, at least over the medium to long term. People are shifting to more fuel efficient cars and I expect over time we will see greater use of natural gas as an automotive fuel, whether directly as CNG or indirectly via gas fired generation feeding plug-in hybrids. Rarely does a vastly cheaper viable option stay unused for long.
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:05 PM   #10
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The article made a distinction between suburbs with virtually no amenities except a strip shopping center and those suburbs with a "town center".

I live in a suburb that is one of the latter kind. It has amenities and a town center. It has great schools, hospitals, a regional mall, parks, recreation, high tech jobs, and low tech jobs. One can also walk to grocery stores, drug stores, Starbucks, banks, restaurants, though most people would drive the half-mile or two to all these places. There is no public transportation though. That helps keep the riff-raff out. This place isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

But this area has wealth, too. This helps to keep it going. And affluence attracts affluence.

Some of my colleagues live in one of those other suburbs: Just houses and a couple convenience stores. They are just places to sleep at night. Those kinds of suburbs will dry up, but one could've told you that years ago. No amenities; no growth; no long-term prospects.
You're in the kind of neighborhood I am looking for. I currently live in a suburb with absolutely nothing within walking distance, we bought here 19 years ago when that's what everyone seemed to buy and got much more sqft for the dollar (hindsight is a wonderful thing, but at least it's not a large house, just a "bargain" at the time). Never again...

If/when the cost of gasoline becomes much more expensive in real terms, I have to believe that small towns even with town centers/amenities are going to suffer too. The cost of bringing goods in to low population areas could become a $ problem, or there will be a noticeable premium at the very least.
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:11 PM   #11
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Oh, Crap! I live in the No Man's Land between the states of TX Triangle and Piedmont Atlantic. I hope they never go to war with each other!
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:17 PM   #12
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Oh, Crap! I live in the No Man's Land between the states of TX Triangle and Piedmont Atlantic. I hope they never go to war with each other!
I can see the pickup/hound dog brigades charging each other now.
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:37 PM   #13
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I am surprised that demand and prices are falling in Seattle suburbs. Would this be outside of the national collapse of housing values?
No; it is only relative to more central areas
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:38 PM   #14
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DC is a bit of an anomaly - it seems to be booming both in town and far out. I can certainly say that the city itself has become more and more desirable. Areas that I would steer clear of just a few years ago are hopping with 20 and 30 somethings but they are all getting very expensive. Whe I visit Chicago I am amazed at how much gentrification and development have taken place. Places I taught school in that were downright scary have become hot neighborhoods.
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Old 11-26-2011, 02:42 PM   #15
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While the population of New Orleans (not including the suburbs) was 484K according to the 2000 census, it decreased to 344K in the 2010 census. Not only did we have the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, but afterwards many of those who chose to return settled in less flood-prone suburban areas such as those suburbs on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain.

So, I'd say that this trend is not occuring here AFAIK.

On the other hand, there is a surprising amount of new construction going on in the city just in the past year or two. So, who knows what the future might (or might not) bring.
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Old 11-26-2011, 03:01 PM   #16
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I think the gas price issue will prove not to be as big a deal as one might think, at least over the medium to long term. People are shifting to more fuel efficient cars and I expect over time we will see greater use of natural gas as an automotive fuel, whether directly as CNG or indirectly via gas fired generation feeding plug-in hybrids. Rarely does a vastly cheaper viable option stay unused for long.
Except that there is some movement to start taxing road use by the mile, instead of per gallon of gas, because doggone it, we encouraged them to buy more efficient vehicles and now we can't maintain our roads on the same gas tax.

Also expect more suburban and exurban new development to include toll roads. So the price of gas itself may indeed have less of an impact than imagined, but one way or another, people who want to live in the distant 'burbs and want to drive to the city are going to pay.
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Old 11-26-2011, 04:08 PM   #17
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Except that there is some movement to start taxing road use by the mile, instead of per gallon of gas, because doggone it, we encouraged them to buy more efficient vehicles and now we can't maintain our roads on the same gas tax.

Also expect more suburban and exurban new development to include toll roads. So the price of gas itself may indeed have less of an impact than imagined, but one way or another, people who want to live in the distant 'burbs and want to drive to the city are going to pay.
or maybe more people will car pool or work a few days from home (obviously not an option for all.)
Less running to walmart, more keeping a list and making fewer trips.
More intramural school sports and band, less long distance.
More carpooling kids to school, fewer cars dropping one kid off.

and so on
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Old 11-26-2011, 04:24 PM   #18
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Progressive and cosmopolitan major cities are able to rebuild from the core. Unfortunately many are not, white flight is still a problem in many major cities. Some have been able to develop pockets of downtown city living. Twenty somethings and a few retirees venture there, but the problem of public education in many city core areas still forces or scares the twenty somethings away when they decide to have children.
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Old 11-26-2011, 04:29 PM   #19
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... the problem of public education in many city core areas still forces or scares the twenty somethings away when they decide to have children.
This is definitely true. We live in a small town that's 60-70 miles away from where most of the "decent jobs" are. It's not uncommon here for folks to leave town to go to college, get a job in the cities or suburbs and say they'll "never" go back to the "boring" small town life again.

But it's funny. A lot of the folks who say this wind up back here by the time they are 30 or 35... about when they have children about to enter the school system. I don't have any kids myself, but I often see how it changes the priorities of some of the "boomerangs" who left town as college students and 20-somethings but came back when they had kids. Suddenly, "exciting" and "cosmopolitan" no longer matter so much -- a safe, "wholesome" environment for their kids in decent schools suddenly becomes the most important thing. Our church, for example, has virtually no regular attendees between the ages of about 14 and 35 (they usually vanish after confirmation and don't come back until after they are grown and have kids of their own). But under 14 and 35+ are well-represented.
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Old 11-26-2011, 04:40 PM   #20
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This is definitely true. We live in a small town that's 60-70 miles away from where most of the "decent jobs" are. It's not uncommon here for folks to leave town to go to college, get a job in the cities or suburbs and say they'll "never" go back to the "boring" small town life again.

But it's funny. A lot of the folks who say this wind up back here by the time they are 30 or 35... about when they have children about to enter the school system. I don't have any kids myself, but I often see how it changes the priorities of some of the "boomerangs" who left town as college students and 20-somethings but came back when they had kids. Suddenly, "exciting" and "cosmopolitan" no longer matter so much -- a safe, "wholesome" environment for their kids in decent schools suddenly becomes the most important thing. Our church, for example, has virtually no regular attendees between the ages of about 14 and 35 (they usually vanish after confirmation and don't come back until after they are grown and have kids of their own). But under 14 and 35+ are well-represented.
Im about in the same type of location as you and most people make an 80-100 mile daily round trip drive for a decent job. Just my personal experiences, but even if gas doubled it wont change these small bedroom towns of 5k to 30 k, people would just cram into a smaller car or share rides. Many people like their small piece of grass to mow, and living away from the negatives that cities have.
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