Quote of the day: The gospel of suburbanism

Since the start of the housing crisis, urbanists and pop sociologists have projected a tectonic shift in the way people live, with several high-profile newspaper and magazine articles predicting that suburban families will resettle in dense urban centers.

In a new article posted on NewGeography.com titled The American Suburb is Bouncing Back, editor Joel Kotkin argues that suburban markets – particularly in the Sun Belt – are showing signs of life, while prices are still falling and foreclosures are piling up on urban condominiums.

The “gospel of urbanism” may be accepted as such by most of the mainstream press, most notably The New York Times and Atlantic Monthly, but on closer examination the new religion has limited numbers of converts. In many locales – from Massachusetts to Los Angeles – inner-city condominium projects are losing value at least as much or more than suburban single-family houses. In San Diego, for example, condo prices have dropped in some developments by 70% since 2007, twice the decline in the overall market.

The problem has much to do with timing. In many areas, urban condominium developers continued to build even as the economy soured, largely due to the longer lead times and financing arrangements around such projects. Yet as the prices of houses have dropped many potential condominium dwellers have opted to purchase single-family homes – or are sitting anxiously on the sidelines waiting for prices to drop further.

But what about the advantages of city living, like “walkability” and short commute times? Good schools and jobs are located outside of city centers, and Kotkin says that American preference for suburban living largely reflects that.

The main reason is simple enough for almost anyone but a planning professor, architect or pundit to comprehend: preference. Virtually every survey reveals that the vast majority of Americans – and around 80% of Californians – prefer single-family homes that generally are affordable only in suburban areas. The fact that jobs have also continued to move inexorably to the periphery – as a newly released bookings (sic) report demonstrates to liberal think tanks’ own undisguised horror – makes living in the ‘burbs even more attractive.

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