Changing Suburbs: “The Next Slum?”

Christopher Leinberger:

Strange days are upon the residents of many a suburban cul-de-sac. Once-tidy yards have become overgrown, as the houses they front have gone vacant. Signs of physical and social disorder are spreading.
At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”
In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento, the houses are nicer than those at Windy Ridge—many once sold for well over $500,000—but the phenomenon is the same. At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents’ association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, “There’s been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.”
In the first half of last year, residential burglaries rose by 35 percent and robberies by 58 percent in suburban Lee County, Florida, where one in four houses stands empty. Charlotte’s crime rates have stayed flat overall in recent years—but from 2003 to 2006, in the 10 suburbs of the city that have experienced the highest foreclosure rates, crime rose 33 percent. Civic organizations in some suburbs have begun to mow the lawns around empty houses to keep up the appearance of stability. Police departments are mapping foreclosures in an effort to identify emerging criminal hot spots.

This is an interesting issue to consider, as school districts continue to ponder new edge schools.

One thought on “Changing Suburbs: “The Next Slum?””

  1. This article is a perhaps too bleak picture of suburbia; and misses an important other catalyst — Peak Oil.
    Bedroom communities become less sustainable as oil prices raise — and rise they will. Some investors are seeing oil at $160/barrel relatively soon with the concomitant rise in gas prices, fuel oil, etc.
    Suburbia will become slums in the near term and will be condensed and gutted. Others also see the revitalization of that land the way it was 40-50 years and long before; conversion back to small farms surrounding city markets — before sprawl and wall-to-wall Walmarts.
    Maybe New Jersey will again live up to its name “The Garden State” and return to feeding NYC, less the cars and perhaps more rooftop gardens; and consistent with the more livable cities of Europe.

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