Suburbs fall short of American dream
Their allure is fading quickly, according to one author. People are moving to denser communities to avoid long commutes and to have more interactions with neighbors.
The suburbs aren't dead yet, but their allure is fading quickly, according to Leigh Gallagher, the author of "The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving."
Gallagher, who is also an assistant managing editor of Fortune magazine, spoke with CNBC about why the suburban American dream isn't working.
"A lot of people our age or older have a tremendous amount of nostalgia for the suburbs," she says. "Going outside, playing until 6 o'clock when it was time for dinner, having tons of kids around -- that is sort of no more."
Gallagher says people are moving to denser communities to create happier and more satisfying lives. She sees this as a positive trend. The shift is happening for a range of reasons, she says, from health to frustration with long, expensive commutes. Some people aren't finding the suburbs fulfilling.
Large spaces between homes can make it hard to meet and mingle with neighbors. This contradicts the perception of the suburbs, where neighborly interactions are considered the norm.
Gallagher met one woman who was leaving her 6,000-square-foot house outside of Chicago for a community where the homes are right next to each other.
The woman told Gallagher about how she spoke with a community resident in her kitchen.
"She said, 'It's been 10 years in my community with a big house, in 10 years, I've never stood in anybody else's kitchen,'" Gallagher recounts.
Some communities that don't have a downtown are finding their own ways to bring people together.
Gallagher came across a town in New Jersey whose residents were worried about trick-or-treating on Halloween. The houses were too far apart, the kids would get exhausted, and they wouldn't get enough candy. They chose to change things.
"So all the parents drove to the K-8 school, parked their cars in tailgate formation, and the kids would trick-or-treat from car to car," she said. "They liked it. It worked for them.
"But that just shows you they're having to re-create this kind of faux community."
Gallagher noted that family sizes are also shrinking. This is having a "dramatic impact" on the taxpayer base in the suburbs, she says. She describes the suburb outside of Philadelphia where her father grew up. There were 41 kids on his block.
"There are now fewer than 15 children on that very same block," she says. "That's happening all over the place. The taxpayer base in the suburbs is going to change."
That taxpayer base increasingly comprises senior citizens and baby boomers, Gallagher said. Their priorities are different from those of young families, who may be more interested in school programs than bold, readable road signs.
Changes underway already are now accelerating.
"It's really in the middle of this incredible transformation," Gallagher says.
Open the door and sit outside. You'll meet the neighbors. You may not like them, but you'll meet them.
The U.S.A. That Was
There was a time that people helped people because it was the right thing to do. There was a time when people saw a need and worked in the community to provide for the need. There was a time when family helped family and generations lived together to help provide for each other. There was a time when if a person had a problem they solved it themselves or asked for help from family and friends. There was a time when people had respect for each other. There was a time when religion was an important part of our lives. There was a time when it was okay to believe in God and let everyone know it. There was a time when religious organizations were free to help those in need and provide services to all without interference. There was a time when neighbor helped neighbor and knew each other’s names. There was a time when black and white people came together in their communities for the good of all. There was a time when black and white children played and sang together.
Now people help people just for there own self-esteem and public image. Now when people see a need they wait for someone else to fix it or run to the government. Now we regard family as a burden and would consider living together a hardship, so we run to the government. Now if we have a problem we run to government and expect them so make it all better. Now it’s everyone for themselves and everything you do is wrong and the government can do it better. Now religion is something to be hidden, only whispered about and we run to the government to protect us from another’s beliefs. Now if a religious organization tries to help they have to give up their own customs and identity so no one they are helping gets offended, and the people run to the government to complain if they see a symbol. Now we try to be as far away from our neighbor as possible, and we don’t even know our neighbors name as we expect them to give up there rights and we run to the government to force our neighbor to do what we want so we are not offended. Now blacks and whites do not trust each other and the government does nothing but make exceptions and excuses, and points out all our differences instead of our common rights.
The philosophy of whether to live far from neighbors or close to them should be an individual's choice. As long as a relatively free market (that's people like you and me) is allowed to provide choices, different people can pursue their respective visions of happiness. Everybody shouldn't live in the city. Everybody shouldn't live in suburbs, either.
The fact that many comments so far are about romanticizing one's chosen place of residence shows that there are still plenty of Americans who would prefer not to look at the way Middle Class America is being eroded. More and more Americans are now "former professionals" for whom the luxury of a suburban home on a large lot is a broken dream. Some former homeowners are forced to consider ghetto-quality apartments in overcrowded areas, dirty streets, run by managers who don't fix broken things. In the Los Angeles, CA area, it costs $900/month to share an apartment in an upscale neighborhood. For $600/month, you share a bedroom in the upscale apartment. Life is no longer about buying new furniture, but getting rid of furniture you've accumulated for decades.
If you still have a nice house, hug it like a teddy bear!
Personally, I think it's worth a 45 minute commute to have plenty of space between you and your neighbors.
I don't need to hear the people next door fighting and making love on the other side of the wall.
Heck, even the suburbs are becoming crime ridden though.
IMO, more and more, we'll see more defined and separate living spaces. The vast majority of people will either live in the city or they will live in the country on acres of land - there won't be nearly as many "in-betweener suburb dwellers". Those who live and work in the city will stay in the city. Those who live in the country will either work nearby or from their home, and will rarely visit the city.
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