Thursday, July 5, 2012

Rebirth of the city

Here is a scenario a lot of people buy into:

Review: The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City
Joel Garreau, New Geography, 23 April 2012
[G}entrification is the “fifth great migration,” that will fill old downtowns with upper-middle-class white folks, while the tract mansions of the outer ring become slums for immigrants? So suggests Alan Ehrenhalt, the former executive editor of Governing magazine...
This book will gain Ehrenhalt nothing but friends, admirers, and speaking engagements among the New Urbanist set, just as Richard Florida, perhaps today’s best-known urban theorist, has made a good living with his work. Ehrenhalt believes that “the massive outward migration of the affluent that characterized the second half of the 20th century is coming to an end.” Soon, he predicts, scarcely anyone “will be buying large, detached single family houses 30 miles from the city limits.” And, more specifically, “Chicago in 2030 will look more like the Paris of 1910 than like the Detroit of 1970.”
To my understanding, the New Urban movement, has some similarities to Kunstler's prediction that peak-oil will force people to move back to smaller towns and villages, and take back up local agriculture circa the the 1180s.  That this idea of "local" agriculture was not entirely true in the 1660s (New England acted as the bread basket for Virginia) is somewhat beside the point.

What distinguishes the New Urbanites from Kunstler is their area of focus.  Being hip urbanites, they view dense living in urban areas to be more energy efficient (true) than the sprawling suburban lifestyle.  And more importantly much more intellectually advanced.  Kunstler would probably (also correctly) that it is not only a matter of energy efficiency, but having a sufficient amount of high density energy sources to make it all work.

But energy is only one issue to the New Urbanites.  They see the gentrification of city neighborhoods, and young people moving into them, and see a trend.

However, as the author of this review points out:  the demographics just aren't there.  Suburbia has been growing, not shrinking.  Although it is a complex phenomena, I would say that it is likely the result of firm growth following the lower development costs, and people following the jobs.   Raleigh, North Carolina is a perfect example.  State and local government guarantee that downtown will have some businesses.  It does have an urban gentrification process going on.  Downtown Raleigh would be a cool place to live if you liked that sort of thing.

But area employment is scattered all over the place.  Much of it is in what used to be the Suburbs, or in the case of North Carolina State University, and Research Triangle Park (RTP) the countryside.  There is a lot of light manufacturing in the area and a lot of that work is done in less expensive satellite towns (Youngsville, Foquay Varina, NC) that are at the outer edges of Raleigh's bedroom communities (Apex, Wake Forest, etc.).  Eaton-Cutler Hammer, a major manufacturer of electrical equipment has many of its facilities on what used to be the very northern edge of town, Schneider Electric (Square D) has its facilities to the Northeast in Knightdale, NC.  I only mention those two because of my familiarity with the electrical construction industry.  There are many many examples.

Most modern structures have close to a negative value.  They are too specifically geared toward a previous type of use, and are expensive to convert.  More expensive than it is to build new.  Demolition is expensive, and our understandable concern over toxic waste makes the removal of debris tricky.

So companies look for outlying areas with sufficient infrastructure (power, water, roads) to service their facilities.  And jurisdictions that want that tax base will provide it to them.   So work sets up ever further out in the suburbs, and people follow the jobs.  The little beautified urban areas are enclaves.   Whether future increased energy costs will make them something more important has yet to be seen. 

After I wrote the above, an article came out stating that the cities were shown to be growing again in the 2011 census. 

AP, Mail Online, 28 June 2012

Driving the resurgence are young adults, who are delaying careers, marriage and having children amid persistently high unemployment...

Burdened with college debt or toiling in temporary, lower-wage positions, they are spurning homeownership in the suburbs for shorter-term, no-strings-attached apartment living, public transit and proximity to potential jobs in larger cities…

They make up roughly 1 in 6 Americans, and some sociologists are calling them 'generation rent.'
So in other words, they are moving to the cities because they cannot afford cars and need to have some form of alternate transport available to them.  Or in some of the cases I have been seeing sighted, they are moving to big sprawling places, like Atlanta, Charlotte, or Raleigh, which arguably are constructed as suburban-cities.


PioneerPreppy said...

If the banks are not loaning and property values continue to fall why would anyone buy in the burbs?

My guess is that anyone who had close packed neighbors would eventually want to move to the less dense areas but can they financially?

Around here new construction on homes has not started back up again. Thanks the Lord.

I hope it never does.

russell1200 said...

PP: Are the banks actually lending, or is everything still going (eventually) to FANNNIE or FREDDIE?

In areas where the economy is O.K. - like Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill, NC. There is some new construction. But as far as I know no new development: no new roads or sewers. And roads and sewers are a large amount of the upfront cost.

I know people who are trying to sell their home. The values are technically still there, but just like during the bubble, they cannot compete with the brand new homes combined with the builders incentives.