Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Giving buyers a real choice

An article in the NY Times tackles the effect of rising gas prices on suburbia. It has lots of choice quotes, mostly supporting the notion that it is cheaper to live closer in and that home prices in suburbia are falling faster than those in-town. But I wanted to highlight this bit on someone holding fast to suburbia:

Megan Werner, 39, a mother of three, moved here five years ago from a dense suburb closer to Denver. She and her husband bought a home set on a 1.5-acre lot
in the Deer Creek Farm subdivision. The space justified her husband’s 40-minute

“We wanted more than a postage stamp,” she said, as her 5-year-old daughter walked barefoot across the driveway.

It used to cost her about $30 to fill her Honda minivan with gas. Now, it is more like $50, and she coordinates her trips — shopping in town, combined with dance lessons for her children. But she has no thoughts of leaving.

“I can open up my door and my kids can play,” Ms. Werner said.

I think I've made it obvious that I have no desire to live in suburbia, and that as a matter of public policy I think we should encourage urban living as much as we encouraged suburban living over the past 50 years by investing in transit, incentivizing urban developments (through things like TADs), and writing better zoning codes (among many other policy ideas).

I should also be clear that I don't think suburbs should cease to exist, or that I think all suburbs are inherently evil. People who want to live on large lots and drive long distances should be able to do that. Nor did I mean to imply yesterday that suburban neighborhoods can't or don't have tight-knit communities, only that they may have to work harder to get there because their physical environment is less conducive to it.

My hope and suspicion is that urban living is inherently more attractive for many people, and that given an equal choice between city living and suburbia, more people will choose to live in cities than in the last 30 years. The key here is equal choice, and it is only recently that government support for urban living has begun to catch up with government support for suburban living.

Most folks' complaints with urban life sound like this person from the article above:
Juanita Johnson and her husband, both retired Denver schoolteachers, moved here
last August, after three decades in the city and a few years in the mountains. They bought a four-bedroom house for $415,000...

“I was so glad to get out of the city, the pollution, the traffic, the crime,” she said.

These problems aren't inherent to the urban environment, which is evident by the fact that suburbs are currently dealing with the rising crime, increased pollution, and strangling traffic. The Johnsons regret their decision, by the way. Now she says, “I wouldn’t do this again.”

I obviously don't lay the current state of the built environment entirely at county governments, FHA loans and the highway system. Urban government has played a part, too. But people will chose a lifestyle they hate if it means their children go to good schools and their neighborhood is safe. This City of Buckhead nonsense came about for a reason - folks are dissatisfied with city government, with good reason.

This is why I think it is very important for Atlanta's government to catch up to its suburban counterparts when it comes to police, budgeting and schools. Until people feel that they can trust Atlanta to provide quality services, Atlanta is not on equal footing with suburbia.

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