In “The Next Slum?”, Chris Leinberger contends that “the story of vacant suburban homes and declining suburban neighborhoods did not begin with the [subprime-mortgage] crisis, and will not end with it”. He goes on to argue that “a structural change is under way in the housing market – a major shift in the way many Americans want to live and work”. The author argues that these trends will benefit cities and hurt suburbs.
Leinberger reviews the history of the suburbs that he traces back to 1946. In the pursuit of fresh air and open space and to escape the problems of the cities, the population shifted to the suburbs. For over half a century, the suburbs grew.
Now the trend seems to be moving in the opposite direction. Leinberger cites the rapid change in the price relationship between suburbs and cities as a key indicator, “per square foot, urban residential neighborhood space goes for 40 to 200 percent more” than suburban residential space and this relationship holds true throughout the country.
As the Businessweek article that Jim Herreid gave me also indicated, demographics are moving against the suburbs too. Back in the early days of the suburban boom, families with children made up more than half of all households; by 2025, they will be closer to a quarter. Compounding this shift, single-person households will also account for about a quarter of American households by 2025.
Different people may draw different conclusions from these trends and develop different recommendations. Personally, I think the trends support those Northfielders who have called for more compact future development, better connectivity between neighborhoods, and stronger support for our historic grid in the Comp Plan revision. These are characteristics increasingly valued by tomorrow’s housing market and they are a good investment for Northfield.