How Congress Can Help Create Suburbia 2.0

As Obama administration adviser Shelley Poticha noted this week, building more energy-efficient and hospitable cities — not to mention suburbs and rural areas — starts with clear terminology. "Sustainability" and "livability" are positive concepts that can be hard to define, but how can "transit-oriented development" be brought home to someone unfamiliar with the nuts and bolts of policy?

Foreclosure_Rate_Homes_Sale_Chicago_Suburbs_5wKfNDSWQE0l.jpgWeeds spring up near a foreclosed home in Illinois. (Photo: Getty Images)

The beginnings of an answer, surprising as it is, lie in an MSN report with a scary headline: "Is Your Suburb the Next Slum?" In stark terms, the piece outlines the consequences of a housing (and energy consumption) boom gone bust:

The one-two punch of a crippling recession and higher gas
prices have quelled demand for many of the nation’s fringe communities
from Charlotte, N.C., to Sacramento, Calif., while at the same time
demographic trends have begun pushing an aging population back to the
nation’s urban cores.

That’s prompting some planners to predict a
huge surplus of large-lot suburban properties in the years ahead — as
many as 25 million homes by 2030, according to Arthur C. Nelson,
presidential professor of city and metropolitan planning at the
University of Utah and director of its Metropolitan Research Center.

Not all of these homes will sit vacant, Nelson says. Many of them will be divided up into multifamily rental properties.

"You
will have two or three households living in these large mansions in the
suburbs," Nelson says, adding that this will bring property values down
and put extra strain on public services.

It’s true that an influx of new residents into suburban areas will place new burdens on local governments. But that’s exactly why the office of sustainable communities that Poticha was appointed to lead and the $4 billion in new development grants now pending in Congress are worthwhile — even for suburbanites who still crave more space than they need.

As demographics shift and the recession forces Americans to start living within their means, mixed-use development like the sort that has kept Arlington, Virginia, booming — will be what helps communities remake themselves. And though that remaking will mostly occur on the local level, Congress and the administration can lend a helping hand to those who want it.

Instead of "transit-oriented development," could it be called "saving the suburbs"?

(h/t Kaid Benfield)

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

New Report Puts a Price on Suburbia and Rental Housing in One U.S. City

|
How much various Boston area neighborhoods are spending on total household transport and housing bills. (Graphic: Center for Neighborhood Technology) Boston mayor Thomas Menino joined Rep. Stephen Lynch (D-MA) today for the release of a new Urban Land Institute (ULI) report that maps the combined housing and transportation burden of living in the metro area’s […]

How Would You Define Transit-Oriented Development?

|
It’s a welcome sign of progress that developers are beginning to shift towards building more walkable, mixed-use projects. Of course, now that more builders recognize the value of transit-oriented development, the term is vulnerable to exploitation. Tools like Walk Score and Abogo can help consumers find walkable places to live with good transit options, but […]

The Good Problem With Housing Near Transit: It’s Almost Too Popular

|
Local officials are catching on to the power of transit-oriented development to transform quality of life while decreasing congestion, as my colleague Ryan Avent has explored. But now that the federal government is starting to explore how to expand transit-accessible housing, an intriguing problem is arising: it’s almost too popular. Transit-oriented development in Jersey City, […]