Wednesday, July 14, 2010

An Urban or Suburban Future?

An informative debate between the advocates of each, as reported--with anti-suburban bias showing--by Fast Company.

An excerpt.

“Last Wednesday night, Joel Kotkin--a futurist and (sub)urban historian--squared off in a debate against Christopher Leinberger, a developer, consultant and proponent of "walkable urbanism." The topic: "America 2050: What Will We Build." The pair tangled on four key issues: demographics; housing supply & demand; transport; and density. Kotkin was in hostile territory: a roomful of Manhattan architects and academics belonging to the Forum for Urban Design.


“Kotkin, author of The Next Hundred Million, is commonly labeled an apologist for sprawl, he’s more like its Gorbachev, seeking to reform an unsustainable institution from within. He believes that sheer population growth will save the economy as America adds another hundred million people in the coming decade, mostly through immigration. While China ages disastrously and Europeans die off, young immigrants will more than offset the earnings of the retiring Baby Boomers, replenish the heartland, and resuscitate our moribund construction industry.

“This bodes well for suburbia, he argued. Upsetting conventional wisdom, studies show boomers retiring close to home, while immigrants are increasingly making the suburbs their first stop, and millennials see a suburban future for themselves as well. He sees them following the same path as their parents -- marrying, moving to the suburbs, and settling down to raise a family. Collectively, these three groups will sop up the estimated surplus of 22 million large-lot homes by 2025.

“But Leinberger produced his own statistics, refuting Kotkin’s numbers and demonstrating that the percentage of married couples with children versus those without had hovered around a 50-50 split when suburbia was constructed in the 1950s; today the ratio is more like 33-67, on its way in the coming decades to 14 percent with children and 86 percent without -- obviating the need for yards and good schools. Surburbia is massively overbuilt, awaiting a second baby boom that isn’t coming.”