18 March 2008

The Atlantic: The Next Slum

Do things look different after the Bear Stearns bail out? Can you imagine a neighborhood, maybe in Hunterdon County, where a row of shiny new McMansions could sit unsold for a few years? How high would the weeds get? Would the neighbors who did buy $800k homes that are suddenly worth $600k really hang onto a house they can barely afford just so they can live in a new ghost town? How long would it be before the town changed zoning so the houses could be converted to multi-multi-family? Are we nearing a point where people will move into town to get away from crime?

The March issue of Atlantic Monthly has a feature called The Next Slum? that looks at these issues. They mention that some communities are mapping out foreclosures as a predictor of crime increases. And, as if they had been sitting in on my lectures last week, they offered up some demographic analysis to show that there are some real trends in play here:
Because the population is growing, families with children will still grow in absolute number—according to U.S. Census data, there will be about 4 million more households with children in 2025 than there were in 2000. But more than 10 million new single-family homes have already been built since 2000, most of them in the suburbs.

Since my students are visiting planning boards, I'll predict one change they might see. Last year the planning boards would have resisted a new neighborhood until it was clearly established that the lots would all be large enough and until the developer showed that the stormwater drainage was fully compliant with regs. Now these boards are going to be asking about something like whether there is a strong market for homes of this type and size. Or maybe they'll be looking at how the homes can be built as they are bought instead of building on spec. Anyway, I suspect that developers are going to hear some new questions from communities worried abut being left holding the bag on a half occupied subdivision when the septic tanks need to be replaced with municipal sewer.

The combination of this Atlantic piece and the Bear Stearns collapse help you see how quickly the situation could change in so many suburban communities.


Caroline said...

I find the retail side of this coin to be interesting in and of itself. Jersey Gardens notwithstanding, the retail developers increasingly turn their malls inside out, giving rise to "Commons," "Shoppes," and "Crossings." They lay attractive pavers upon which you feel slightly uncomfortable driving, but stop short of prohibiting automobile traffic. They're like central business districts, however situated in complex spaghetti bowls with dubious ingress and egress.

gkarnas said...

This might also point to a trend in America that goes something like this: "More is better." It seems like the housing market boom took off and didnt look back until it was in trouble... this seems irresponsible, but hindsight is 20/20. In my neighborhood, there are three unfinished houses that have been constructed over a year ago. It would be a great hideout for a bum or even local teens wishing to get away for a while. Bottom line is that we dont need an excess of what we already have...