New Suburbanism

This article is a response to urbanism with its Anti-Suburbanism, with its too dense housing in dangerous cities and too much reliance on unsafe and unreliable public transportation, from California Globe.

An excerpt.

Solutions to California’s housing shortage invariably focus on increasing the density of preexisting cities and suburbs. Legislative solutions include SB 375, passed in 2008, which “incentivizes” cities and counties to approve high density land developments, and the failed (this time) SB 50, which would have forced cities and counties to approve high density development proposals.

How high density land development benefits special interests cannot be ignored. Politically connected developers enjoy windfall profits by selling overpriced homes crowded onto smaller parcels of land. Existing cities collect higher taxes from property owners and shoppers who would otherwise have moved into new cities. Government at all levels can spend more money on pay and benefits, and less on infrastructure. Investors harvest higher returns thanks to the real estate bubble.

In front of the hidden agenda of special interests, however, are moral arguments for so-called “smart growth.” The crux of these moral arguments for high density “smart growth” are that regional ecosystems bordering urban areas should not be sullied by new growth, and that high density development reduces emissions of greenhouse gasses, which furthers global ecosystem health.

Both of these moral arguments are flawed. As documented in an earlier analysis “Grand Bargains to Make California Affordable,” if 10 million new residents moved into homes on half-acre lots, three persons per home (with an equal amount of space allocated for new roads, retail, commercial, and industrial development), it would only use up 3.2 percent of California’s land. If all this growth were concentrated onto grazing land, much which is being taken out of production anyway, it would only consume 21 percent of it. If all this growth were to fall onto non-irrigated cropland, which is not prime agricultural land, it would only use up 19 percent of that. Much growth, of course, could be in the 58 percent of California not used either for farming or ranching.

California’s ecosystems can easily withstand significant urban expansion. Even this extreme low density growth scenario – as if there wouldn’t still be parallel development within existing urban areas – only consumes 3.2 percent of the land in this vast state. Similar concerns about greenhouse gasses are unfounded, because they rest on the assumption that higher greenhouse gas emissions are correlated with low density development. They are not, or they don’t have to be. Telecommuting, dispersion of jobs into new suburban nodes, clean energy, and clean vehicles, are all examples of future trends that belie the falsehood that all growth must be confined to existing cities.

Moreover, it is unlikely, if not impossible, for high-density development alone to ever deliver a supply of homes that meets demand, lowering prices to affordable levels. Part of the reason for this is the understandable resistance high-density proposals arouse from existing residents who don’t want to see the ambiance of their neighborhoods destroyed. Equally significant is the extraordinary cost of construction in California. But evidence from around the nation is unambiguous – in areas such as the San Francisco Bay Area where urban containment is practiced, home prices are unaffordable, and in areas such as Houston where urban growth is permitted, home prices are affordable.

If you accept these premises – that urban expansion will not cause unacceptable harm to the environment, and that urban expansion is the only way to deliver enough new homes to lower prices, “smart growth” starts to take on a different meaning. “Special interest growth” might be more descriptive.

New Suburbanism Offers An Alternative to Smart Growth

The concept of New Suburbanism is not original, but it also isn’t well established. This makes it malleable, or, at least, this leaves room for a fresh interpretation of its meaning. First expressed in 2005 by urban geographer Joel Kotkin, New Suburbanism is a complement to New Urbanism, a movement initially devoted to the twin principles of architectural and landscape design that celebrates local history and traditions, along with promoting accessible, pedestrian friendly, aesthetically engaging public spaces. Over time, New Urbanism and New Suburbanism have been taken over by the smart growth crowd, with high-density neighborhood design now the overwhelming priority of these movements. But consider these quotes from Kotkin, written in 2006:

“One critical aspect of New Suburbanism lies in its pragmatism. One cannot always assume, for example, that building a new town center, constructing denser housing, or introducing mixed-use development would automatically improve quality of life.”

Kotkin goes on to explain how “sprawling, multipolar” cities that permit suburban growth are creating more jobs and have more affordable homes, how most people starting families prefer single family detached homes, and average commutes in these cities are actually less because “jobs move to the suburban periphery.” He writes:

“We instead should follow a pragmatic, market-oriented approach to improving the areas in which people increasingly choose to live. For example, in a low-density suburban community that seeks to retain its single-family character, it may be more appropriate to introduce single-family detached housing, rather than assume multi-family apartments and lofts must be part of the solution.”

New Suburbanism is a necessary alternative to Smart Growth because Smart Growth is failing. It not only delivers an inadequate supply of homes, it delivers the wrong mixture of homes, because it delivers apartments, condominiums, townhouses, and “detached” homes with yards barely big enough for an outdoor grill, but it does not deliver what people want, which is a home with a yard.

Retrieved June 5, 2019 from https://californiaglobe.com/fr/new-suburbanism-a-smart-alternative-to-smart-growth/

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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