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.