Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Suburban Wasteland?

The demise of the suburbs has been proclaimed by urbanists for years, and the latest predictions—based on faulty surveys—will fare as have the previous, to be wildly inaccurate because an overwhelming majority of people love to live in the suburbs.

New Geography examines this latest news.

An excerpt.

“For many years, critics of the suburban lifestyles that most Americans (not to mention Europeans, Japanese, Canadians and Australians) prefer have claimed that high-density housing is under-supplied by the market. This based on an implication that the people increasingly seek to abandon detached suburban housing for higher density multi-family housing.

“The Suburbs: Slums of the Future?

"The University of Utah's Arthur C. (Chris) Nelson, indicated in an article (entitled "Leadership in a New Era") in the Journal of the American Planning Association. that in 2003, 75% of the housing stock was detached and 25% was attached, including townhouses, apartments, and condominiums. By 2025 he predicts that only 62% of consumer will favor detached homes, (Note 1). He also predicts a major shift in consumer preferences from housing on large lots (defined as greater than 1/6th of an acre) to smaller lots (Note 2). This, he suggests, would create a surplus of 22 million detached houses on large lots.

“This predication is largely made on the basis of "stated preference" surveys which the author, Dr. Emil Malizia of the University of North Carolina (commenting on the article in the same issue), and others indicate may not accurately reflect the choices that consumers will actually make. Dr. Nelson's article has been widely quoted, both in the popular press and in academic circles. It has led some well-respected figures such as urbanist and developer Christopher Leinberger to suggest in an Atlantic Monthly article that "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 ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay."

“The Condo Market Goes Crazy

“Misleading ideas sometimes have bad consequences. The notion that suburbanites were afflicted with urban envy led many developers to throw up high-rise condominiums in urban districts across the country. Sadly for these developers, the Suburban Exodus never materialized, never occurred. As a result, developers have lost hundreds of millions, if not billions of dollars and taxpayers or holders of publicly issued bonds could be left "holding the bag" (see discussion of Portland, below).

“This weakness has been seen even in the nation's strongest condominium market, New York City, where one developer offered to pay purchaser's mortgages, condominium fees and real estate taxes for a year as well as closing costs.

“But the damage is arguably worse in other major markets which lack the amenities and advantages of New York.

“Take, for example, Raleigh (North Carolina), where low density living is the rule (the Raleigh urban area is less dense than Atlanta). The News and Observer reports that the largest downtown condominium building (the Hue) "considered a bold symbol of downtown Raleigh's revitalization," has closed its sales office and halted all marketing efforts. The development’s offer of a free washing machine, dryer, refrigerator, and parking space were not enough to entice suburbanites away from the neighborhoods they were said to be so eager to leave.

“This is not an isolated instance. Around the nation, condominium prices have been reduced steeply to attract buyers. New buildings have gone rental, because no one wanted to buy them. Other buildings have been foreclosed upon by banks; and units have been auctioned. Planned developments have been put on indefinite hold or cancelled.”