Kaid Benfield Archive


Brookings: The suburbs as we think of them are vanishing

Kaid Benfield

Posted January 23, 2009 at 1:32PM

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vacant mall in suburban Texas (by: Zachary Peterson, creative commons license)Bruce Katz and Jennifer Bradley of the Brookings Institution's fantastic Metropolitan Policy Program have a provocative article in the current Newsweek about how suburbs have transformed, and so must our attempts to address their needs.  The image, say the authors, remains one of nice big houses on carpets of grass, and not cities with their problems of noise, poverty, and crowds.

The reality is quite different, as the photo of a vacant mall in suburban Texas reminds us. It's time to lose that bucolic image, Katz and Bradley contend:

"Suburbs now provide more jobs than cities . . . Suburbs also host more immigrants: in the largest metropolitan areas, nearly six in 10 foreign-born residents now live in the suburbs. In places like Charlotte, N.C., Minneapolis, Sacramento, Calif., and Washington, the first address of many new Americans is most likely down a suburban lane.

"Nationwide, a million more suburbanites are living below the poverty line than city dwellers. Suburban St. Louis County, Mo., has 50 percent more working-poor families than the city of St. Louis itself. The mortgage crisis only adds to the problems. The foreclosure rate in Clayton County, which encompasses many of Atlanta's southern suburbs, is twice as high as that in Atlanta . . .

"America can't ensure its leading place in the global economy unless we grapple with the problems and opportunities of our suburbs."

But nonprofits and government programs, according to Katz and Bradley, remain oriented toward inner cities.  Instead, it is time for attempts to address poverty, the housing crisis, and particularly local government budget shortfalls, to reach across jurisdictional lines, which have lost meaning anyway in all but a legal sense.

As I have argued before, the authors say it is time to think and act regionally, to match what is happening in the real world.  President Obama understands this, I think.  But we have a long way to go.  Read the article here.