Our Bankrupt Suburbs

One of the two big reasons suburbs need to be rebuilt are that they are not economically sustainable. The suburban built environment invariably leads to long-term economic decline and bankruptcy unless it’s redeveloped. Suburbs do not support vibrant economic activity, and they are expensive to maintain.

Suburbs, as they are being built, create substantial economic activity. The jobs and purchase of raw goods required to build roads and homes and shopping centers creates a huge infusion of money into a community. For some suburban communities, this development can last for decades. However, once construction stops, the economic activity that those communities can sustain is limited.

The majority of economic activity found in suburban communities is chain retail and restaurants, which provides some sales tax revenue for cities but limited opportunities for jobs for residents. A statistic that is used to justify suburban development is that every 100 homes built creates 93 new jobs. While additional jobs are a good benefit for a community, suburban development does not create enough new jobs for there to be even one new job per new household. Suburbs, without the benefit of a neighboring urban core, create structural unemployment.
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Urbanizing the ‘Burbs

Cities have become cool, suburbs are anything but. This transformation over the past few decades has fully taken root, not only in the United States, but globally. Concerns over white-flight from our urban cores have become concerns over gentrification. The suburban business park and regional mall, once seen as staples of a bustling economy, have become vacant and rundown, while traditional downtowns have found new life.

Not only have cities once again regained their standing in the economic and social lives of Americans, cities are developing a new reputation as an environmentally preferable option to the suburbs. Suburbs were once thought to be green, with their landscaped parkways and enclaves of preserved nature. However, with new understanding of the deep rooted systems that support our cities and suburbs, it is apparent that cities impact the global environment less than the suburbs.

Suburban development has been firmly ensconced in the American landscape for sixty years, and continues today. These decades of suburban development create both a liability and an opportunity today. If these patterns of development continue, our economy will continue to suffer and our environment will be irreparably altered. However, redeveloping existing suburbs to address these economic and environmental concerns will enable a new wave of investment into our communities.
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