Friday, March 13, 2009

Suburbia (1949 - 13 March 2009) End of the American Dream?

I was scanning the Yahoo! finance section today and happened on an article called “Suburbia R.I.P.” by Michael Cannel. Then a quick search on google for "abandoned suburbs" and "foreclosures" brought up a wide variety of similar stories. The photo shown here comes from : ( )

Or you might want to check out Cannel's story at:

In the meantime, I would like to share some of the highlights here:

“The downturn has accomplished what a generation of designers and planners could not: it has turned back the tide of suburban sprawl. In the wake of the foreclosure crisis many new subdivisions are left half built and more established suburbs face abandonment.... Communities like Elk Grove, Calif., and Windy Ridge, N.C., are slowly turning into ghost towns with overgrown lawns, vacant strip malls and squatters camping in empty homes. In Cleveland alone, one of every 13 houses is now vacant, according to an article published Sunday in The New York Times magazine.

The demand for suburban homes may never recover, given the long-term prospects of energy costs for commuting and heating, and the prohibitive inefficiencies of low-density construction. The whole suburban idea was founded on disposable spending and the promise of cheap gas. Without them, it may wither. A study by the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech predicts that by 2025 there will be as many as 22 million unwanted large-lot homes in suburban areas.”

“Already low or middle-income families priced out of cities and better neighborhoods are moving into McMansions divided for multi-family use. Alison Arieff, who blogs for The New York Times, visited one such tract mansion that was split into four units, or "quartets," each with its own entrance, which is not unlike what happened to many stately homes in the 1930s. The difference, of course, is that the 1930s homes held up because they were made with solid materials, and today's spec homes are all hollow doors, plastic columns and faux stone facades.

There is also speculation that subdivision homes could be dismantled and sold for scrap now that a mini-industry for repurposed lumber and other materials has evolved over the last few years. Around the periphery of these discussions is the specter of the suburb as a ghost town patrolled by squatters and looters, as if Mad Max had come to the cul-de-sac.”

Much of the same story is told by Neil Macdonald in his recent article called “the giant Ponzi scheme that is Florida” ( ). Some select quotes are shown below:

“Lehigh Acres, a sprawling bundle of communities without any kind of municipal government, is the worst. You enter it along Gunnery Road, running east of Fort Myers, and pretty soon the dilapidation flows everywhere.

Particularly striking is the newness of it all. Some of these homes — pastel orange, blue or green — have never been occupied, yet the windows are smashed, the appliances have been ripped out and the yards are a tangle of garbage-strewn brambles.”

“Cape Coral, more upscale than Lehigh Acres, lies on the other side of Fort Myers, surrounded by the clear water of the Gulf. It's the second biggest city in Florida by size, with more canals and water access than any city in America. A vast, rambling place with no core and ghost towns on its edges.”

“The family across the street abandoned their home a year ago. Just packed up and left. Connie (the neighbor) thought they were going on vacation. They even left their car, a late-model white Dodge Intrepid. A notice on the driver's window threatens it will be towed, at the owner's expense, if it isn't moved in three days. “The city put that notice on nine months ago," says Connie. "I wish they'd tow it. I hate looking at it. I hate it."

She hates the overgrown yards, too. They're a fire hazard and they attract snakes.Cape Coral can't afford to tow the car, though, or clear the brush from yards. The loss of taxes from foreclosed properties is strangling its municipal government. It's the same story all over the state.”

I certainly took the documentary “End of Suburbia” seriously back in 2004 - In my worst nightmares I never dreamed that it could all happen so fast!

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