Suburb Hating is Anti-Child

bigstock_Suburbs__2977023.jpg

Sure, suburbs have big problems. Their designs force their inhabitants to drive in cars, instead of walking and bicycling. This diminishes face-to-face interactions, physical health, and the quality of the environment. Aesthetically, many of them, particularly those dreaded “planned communities,” are quite boring. People who live there tend not to have much contact with people who aren’t like them, so suburbs reinforce racial, religious, and class segregation.

A large proportion of intellectuals and politicians, including President Obama, decry these problems with suburbs as reason to hate them and advocate for their elimination, in favor of dense, big cities.

Yeah, I get it. I agree that all these problems exist, and they bother me a lot.

There’s just one big problem with suburb hating. The alternative to suburbs in metropolitan areas, cities, are much worse for children. Sure, adults can have a great time in hip, dense city centers like Manhattan or San Francisco. In fact, if my wife and I never had kids, we’d still be living in San Francisco, going out practically every night.

However, it’s clear that cities are worse for kids than suburbs.

Why do I say this?

First, just look at where newly married urbanites choose to live once they have children. They leave cities in droves. The hipper and denser the city, the more likely are parents to flee to the suburbs.

20-29_table

Richard Florida made his name over a decade ago writing about how cities should attract the “creative class” – a code name for childless urban hipsters. In his book, Who’s Your City?: How the Creative Economy Is Making Where to Live the Most Important Decision of Your Life, he lists cities he thinks are best for different groups of people. The table here shows the percentage of total population in the United States that is school-aged children (age 5-17) versus that for large cities that Florida lists as best for 20-29 year-olds.

The only two cities that are even close to the national average of 17.5% are Los Angeles and New York. Los Angeles covers an awful lot of land area, and I suspect that if I could get data for what Florida really means by “Los Angeles,” the percentage would be much lower.

NYC_boroughs

New York is also quite large and diverse, but there, fortunately, I have data for what Florida really means by “New York.” I’m sure he’s thinking of Manhattan when he thinks of “creative class.” There, as you can see on the table here, Manhattan’s percentage of the population that is school-aged is 11.8%, far below the national average.

In her suburb-hating book, The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving, Leigh Gallagher gushes that Manhattan “has become overloaded with families.” To back up this assertion, she points to US Census data that there were 2,600 more married families with children 0-18 in 2010 than in 2000. Actually, that’s unimpressive for two reasons. First, the census data show that Manhattan’s total population actually increased by more than the population of children, so children as a percentage of the total population actually dropped. Second, even if the percentage of children had increased, the 11.8% figure for school-aged children is horrifically low.

The New York Times contributed to this gushing sentiment for children in Manhattan in a 2005 article. It pointed to a small surge in children under 5 in Manhattan’ census data between 2000 and 2004. Unfortunately, this trend did not extend to school-aged kids.

This disparity hints at the major reason why families leave big cities: public schools in large cities are, by and large, awful. So, for the most part, families that have the means to move out of cities when their children reach school age flee to the ‘burbs. Most middle and upper-middle class families that do stay send their children to private schools. 30% of San Francisco children go to private schools, and my guess is that the figure for Manhattan and other dense, hip urban centers is close to that.

So, to some extent, when you hear people complain that cities are too expensive for families, they are calculating private school into the cost of living there.

But private schools not only cost a lot of money. They also destroy neighborhood life for children. In big city neighborhoods where many or most children go to private schools, children who live on the same street hardly know each other because they tend to go to different schools that their parents choose.

Beyond running bad schools that force families with the means to go to private school, some big city school systems put the final dagger into neighborhoods by forcing or enticing children to go to a school outside their neighborhoods.

For example, San Francisco has done this for decades in an effort to forcibly integrate students of different races and backgrounds, but instead, what it’s done is destroy neighborhoods and push more families into private schools than any other city in America. In the last year or two, that city has made a small change in its policy in an apparent effort to make it more possible for children to go to school in their own neighborhood, but this change hasn’t gone nearly far enough to pull neighborhoods together.

So, big cities are left with neighborhoods where children spray out to all parts of the city to go to school every day. When school’s over at the end of the day, playing in their neighborhoods isn’t an option because children there don’t know one another.

The families that do flee for the suburbs leave a diverse place where parents like them have a small amount of political power and huge teachers’ unions dominate, to a more homogeneous place where most residents are like them, in terms of socio-economic status, and parents wield great power over schools. Left behind are the less fortunate kids, with their families.

The other primary problem that families have with cities is space. Yes, while it’s trendy these days for urban planners to advocate for dense development, families with children flee from density. Every large city in the United States that has high density – including those in the Richard Florida list above and other dense cities like Miami and Philadelphia – have very low percentages of school-aged children.

To put it simply, play requires space. If all kids have outside their crowded apartment building is a sidewalk, they can’t play a game of soccer, nor can they play even less formal games like hide and seek or tag. Also, sidewalks are a lot less complex, and therefore they’re a lot more boring for kids, than yards that have grass and bushes with hiding spaces.

As Richard Louv writes so eloquently in his book Last Child in the Woods, children really do love being in nature. They’re drawn to play among trees, bushes, grass, and creeks rather than sidewalks and brick walls.

Those who tout the attractiveness of city life for children always cite the importance of public parks. Parks are great for families that live right next to them, but unfortunately, we’re never going to put a park in every other block. The fact is that children don’t roam very far on their own these days. In fact, most preteen children don’t roam on their own more than a few feet from their front doors, whether those front doors are to their single family homes or to their apartment buildings. So, parks are of very limited use, even to most city dwellers. While kids and caregivers go there together, kids hardly every go there on their own to play freely.

Clearly, children can get a great deal of value from a yard outside a single family home, which is one important reason why so many families aim to move to the suburbs. Yes, most families don’t exploit their yards nearly enough once they move there, but that’s a problem with how families live in suburbs. It’s not a blanket condemnation of suburbs.

So, we need to fix suburbs and the way families utilize them. They should be far more pedestrian friendly, and not favor cars so much. Residential yards should be used as social hangouts, not merely admired from afar for their manicured shrubs and flower beds. I’ve written a great deal about these fixes on my blog and in my book Playborhood.

But what we shouldn’t do is try to force families to live in dense city centers. Most families don’t like it there, with good reason.

Suburb hating hurts children. Politicians who advocate anti-suburb policies are hurting children. They are, dare I say, anti-child.

Mike Lanza is author of the parenting book Playborhood: Turn Your Neighborhood Into a Place For Play, and blogs at Playborhood.com.

Suburbs photo by Bigstock.



















Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Lanza on Cities as kid incubators

Every negative of the urban environment Lanza cites in his misdirected critique of kid-friendliness is not only countered by the problems endemic in suburbs, but based on his notions of the inner city. Does it typically have problems? Sure, but we should not be talking so much about existing conditions as the opportunities to improve them via an influx of talent, money, and motives to improve the urban environment to make it more kid friendly. Also, sidewalks may not of themselves be too exciting, but the activities on and adjacent to them in cities are far more interesting than the banalty of the slurbs. If you want to talk cities in terms of kid friendliness, talk Paris, or Rome, or even London.

Also, what is Lanza's notion of a child? A hot-house raised, pampered suburban hybrid? Small kids play at home, but as children grow in knowledge and capability, their interests expand rapidly, and although a pickup game of baseball may require a field, cycling, walking, running, and hopscotch do not. The swing set in the backyard is not used after 6 year olds graduate to the front yard and neighborhood. I'd rather have youngsters learning first hand about the urban environment that undergirds the arts, commerce, industry, and social responsibility as citizens rather than the intricacies of backyard mums and petunias.

Must we make the city more habitable for families? Sure, but the suburbs have run their course as a model environment. Their problems are not soluble because built into the low-density, private vehicle, and domestic cultishenss of the low density, sprawling environment. Urban issues can be settled by superior urban design choices (and better schools) which will become possible as the money and demand becomes available with the influx of more families.

Cities as kid incubators

Wow... 6-year-olds emerge from the swingsets in their backyards to learn "first hand about the urban environment that undergirds the arts, commerce industry, and social responsibility?"

Uhhh, you missed a few important steps in childhood.

You've proved my point...

My kid had a great childhod

We live in a downtown neighborhood of Boston, Our son now off in College had a great childhood. He did attend a private school until the 6th grade, but then moved to a public school 6th grade thru high school, that was rated on of the top 10 in the US. He had friends that he could walk to from a young age took public transit from the 6th grade to school. He spent his afternoons with his friends sailing in the harbor, playing hockey, or doing volenteer work. I didnt have to spend my time driving him around on weekends as he could get where he wanted to go on his own.
For middle class teenagers the City is actually a safer than the suburbs, the leading cause of death in this age group is from auto accidents, my son and the majority of his fiends did not even want or consider driving until a few years into college. Not all cities are the same but our son had access to resources and culture not available in the suburbs, he was never bored. He had a very deverse group of friends from all over the world, ate in great resturants (not the crap chains the populate the burbs). Our friends that did move out all regretted it, many moved back, and all said the drug problem in the burbs was a major problem

Our NY freinds kids all had similar experiances growing up, If you ask the kids if the wish they grow up in the burbs they would laugh at you.

Small towns - the road not really taken

Suburbization vs. urbanism are not the only options. There is a lot to be said for the small town as an ideal place for families to raise children and to live out their lives. If there is any truth to the proverb "it takes a village", then it actually does take a VILLAGE - i.e., a small town. People tend to know their neighbors, and the social bonds are stronger and more extensive. Local civic institutions tend to be strong and well-maintained. There are exceptions to this, of course, and there are small towns that are terrible places. The same could be said for suburbs and for cities, of course.

The irony is that the whole suburban idea started out as an attempt to replicate the small town on the outskirts of the city. Good idea, poor implementation. Suburbs largely failed because all too often they didn't include the whole package that comes with any good small town: a variety of housing types and styles, a grid (more or less) network of streets and sidewalks, a downtown with a mix of all the essential stores and services, several local employers, and a full array of schools, libraries, churches, parks, and other essential civic institutions and facilities. A subdivision, or even a collection of several different subdivisions, with a shopping mall a mile or two away, is not the same thing as a small town. It doesn't even come close.

There have been, of course, a few suburbs that do match up pretty well with the typical small town. Some of these just happened to be small towns that used to be farther away from cities, but with urban sprawl have gradually become exurbs. The closest in of these were eventually annexed and became urban neighborhoods rather than suburbs. Which brings me to my last point. Not only is there a better way that can be imagined to do suburbs, there is also a better way that can be imagined to do urban neighborhoods. It is the same way in both cases: make them look and feel and function as much as possible just like small towns. If you are looking for a humane and family-friendly way to live, that is the way to go.

Stefan Stackhouse
Black Mountain NC

"Design" and planning is the problem, not "the suburb"

Yes, there is no inherent reason suburbs couldn't have been well designed from the outset to incorporate such features. Like I say, I have lived in "suburbs" like that all my life.

There is also no inherent reason that suburbs that lack amenity cannot be retrofitted with it, especially seeing they often have very low density, low land cost, and opportunities for redevelopment.

High land costs are the enemy of everything; they make the opportunity cost of amenities too high. This means that urban growth boundaries or proxies for them have unintended consequences for most of the things that planners are trying to achieve inside those boundaries. They only thing they achieve, is stopping development from occurring outside them, but they also stop beneficial (re)development from occurring inside them too.

Small Towns

Stefan:

You're right - small towns are the ideal model for many planners and town designers. New Urbanism is a school of planning and design that attempts to boil down the essential elements of a friendly small town on to a small footprint so that everything is within a five mile walk. Also, I would consider my town to be a small town, but it's suburban, so perhaps it doesn't qualify by your definition.

The problem with the small towns as you refer to them is jobs. Large metropolitan areas are increasingly the engines of economic activity, so many small towns far away from a large metro are starving for jobs.

- Mike

typo

I meant "five minute walk," not "five mile walk."

Poppycock

"Sure, suburbs have big problems. Their designs force their inhabitants to drive in cars, instead of walking and bicycling. This diminishes face-to-face interactions, physical health, and the quality of the environment. Aesthetically, many of them, particularly those dreaded “planned communities,” are quite boring. People who live there tend not to have much contact with people who aren’t like them, so suburbs reinforce racial, religious, and class segregation."

There is no big traffic director out there flagging people down and forcing them to move into all white neighborhoods, or predominantly Christian communities, or more female populated neighborhoods. People choose of their own free will where to live and no one is prohibited from making whatever choice they desire. I've lived in the burbs all my life and I have had black neighbors, asian neighbors, middle eastern neighbors, neighbors with kids and neighbors without kids. I've had elderly neighbors, gay neighbors, and neighbors that have lost their homes through bad decision making. There are three parks in my 100 year old neighborhood, a bike path, a ball park, and basketball courts. The kids all play together regardless of color, we have sponsored bike rides, we have a community-wide yard sale twice a year, a very active civic league, and a very active gardening community. Cities are no more or no less active, people are active or not, not their housing choices.

ALL public schools are awful

Interesting article. I both agree and disagree with some of the author's assertions:

"...public schools in large cities are, by and large, awful. So, for the most part, families that have the means to move out of cities when their children reach school age flee to the ‘burbs. Most middle and upper-middle class families that do stay send their children to private schools. 30% of San Francisco children go to private schools, and my guess is that the figure for Manhattan and other dense, hip urban centers is close to that."

It's not just that public schools in large cities are awful. Public schools are awful everywhere, including the suburbs. (I've taught in both urban and suburban schools in Portland and Seattle.) The author is correct about 30% of children in dense urban cores sending their children to private school; that stat is also true in Seattle. Why? Because large urban districts are generally worse than suburban schools in part because they are far more bureaucratic and unresponsive. But make no mistake: Suburban public schools are not much better and share many of the same problems.

"But private schools not only cost a lot of money. They also destroy neighborhood life for children."

Really? Private schools "destroy" neighborhood life? This is a hyperbolic load of excrement; in my neighborhood, I see private school students walking down the neighborhood's central avenue, interacting with the community and public school students. Just because they don't attend the centrally located overcrowded and dilapidated public school, staffed by ineffectual burnouts, it doesn't follow that their "neighborhood life" has been destroyed; one could argue the opposite: that the public school destroys neighborhood life, especially when students from the south were bused in to the neighborhood; they brought gang culture, drugs, weapons, and vandalized and terrorized the neighborhood. One could also argue that since public schools are predicated on force, public schools are in fact the destroyers of neighborhood life because, by force, they bring together people that may have chosen never to associate, thereby creating tension and resentment.

Great column.

Great column. Dense urban areas are not for everyone, certainly they are not that great for kids.

Sorry, posted in wrong area

Sorry, posted in wrong area and don't see a delete option.

Bravo, you nailed it, just discovered this site

Bravo.

You nailed it.

I will bookmark this site and come back.

Below I have some disorganized random thoughts.

My wife and I adopted two children from Foster Care in the Washington DC area and just bought a house in suburb called Olney, MD. It was the best place for us, we are going from a 19 foot wide town house to a .45 acre home.

Personally, I love cities and seeing them get better. For example, in my hometown of Houston, Texas I read the HAIF Going Up Blog all the time and think it is awesome to see that big spread out city add more midrise and highrise housing to fill in the city and make it more livable. Rail, bike paths, retail,etc, it is all great to see.

I had a coworker from Oakland, CA who really strongly believed in the idea that cars should have meters on them to tax every mile you drive and that people shouldn't live in the country "because they didn't pay for the road to get there." I thought that was odd but I started reading it more and more so I guess that is an opinion shared by many urban planners, maybe it is the consensus from the "experts."

I just have one example of why these experts are well meaning but wrong. These are the same people that thought building high rise modern apartments in cities like Chicago was the way to win the war on poverty. It didn't work, those new building became crime infested, run down and instead of lifting the poor, created factories to propagate poverty to the children who had plenty of bad examples to pattern after.

So back to my wife and adopted kids (13 now, and twins) we are just skipping all that nonsense and moving to a place that has a good school, a neighborhood that does 4th of July parades and takes care of itself, and also has plenty of places to walk the dog. By the way, anyone have a Viszla puppy needing a home?

I challenge the assertion that suburbanites aren't as fit, it is just bunk. In our new neighborhood I saw tons of families out walking, the soccer fields are all out here, the kids swim team is a mile away, we can now walk to 4 grocery stores, we can walk to the town center 1 mile for 30 places to eat dinner and it is all a suburb. To reinforce that idea, I look at the parents that attended kick off for our confirmation class at a church out here, everyone looks healthy and fit to me. Kids and parents.

Any way, great article you are so right, these folks are never right about anything, people can decide best what to for themselves, my wife and I both have masters degrees, I don't need some group that overfocuses on their area of study and amplify it to an obsession to tell me how to live, they are almost always off base because by definition experts tend to see life in their weird unbalanced way because they hang out with people just like them and over-amplify the importance of their ideas.

To be totally honest with you, the kids I see on the Metro and a lot of the people I see in the city look much less healthy and overweight.

Mike Lanza, meet Circular Argument...

"This disparity hints at the major reason why families leave big cities: public schools in large cities are, by and large, awful"

And why, pray tell, are the schools awful? Oh, because any family with money either leaves or puts their kids in private school. There is nothing, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING, whereby population density causes the bad schools in the first place. This situation is a historical anachronism that we are stuck in due to a prisoner's dilemma: most middle and upper income parents would be happy to put their kids in an urban public school if the school was good, but none will *until* the school is good. Yet the school won't be good until many of them do just that!

Children are not

Children are not experimental subjects. What parent would intentionally put a child in a failing public school when better options are available, based solely on the premise that sacrificing their child's education for the greater good will mysteriously benefit that child in an intangible manner? Each child has one shot at age 6 or 10 or 16. Who in their right mind would disregard their child's best interests in favor of an uncertain hint of progress at some point in a vague future, after the damage has been done?

That's several bridges too far for most parents, me included.

Demographics

I take it from your comment that you believe urban schools would be improved if middle and upper income white people were to repopulate urban areas and retake complete control of the school systems.

Leaving the city

Two points:

1) Where you grew up has a big influence on what you want to do when you are older and have kids. If you grew up in a city, paying for a car seems like a crazy expense. If you grew up in the burbs paying a city income tax seems insane. Net net, the burbs are A LOT cheaper. Sorry city lovers.

2) There are a lot of good reasons for people with kids to leave the "city". This does not mean the burbs are perfect, just that there are a number of reasons why they are better than the "city".

2a) You can afford a bedroom for your kid(s) so someone in the house does not have to sleep in the living room.

2b) If you have smart kids they need to go to private school. In a big city this is going to cost 25-50k per kid from age 5 to 18. Some of the public schools in cities are good. But most are crap. Parents who don't get this are (a) in denial, (b) put their own lifestyle ahead of their kids (see also "a"), (c) are living in a delusional alternate reality where the "experience of diversity" has some kind of value that makes up for actually getting an education.

2c) You will never have your son see you escort your family past a 14 year old black kid who is asking your wife is "she would like to be fucked by a real man", all while your wife tells you to just keep walking because neither of you know whether the kid has a gun. Yep, those are some great city experiences for any child! Every white person who has lived in a big city has *several* stories exactly like this.

2d) Most cities are broke. When the ability to keep the ponzy scheme going starts to fail, things get bad fast. Many US cities will end up looking like Detroit over the next 20 years.

When our kid came along, we

When our kid came along, we believed the hype about the suburbs being Shangri-La for children and set out from the "oppressive centralized planning hellhole" of Chicago for one of the tonier suburbs out west. A few years later we ran, as fast as our feet would carry us, back to the city. Here's some of the notions of which we were disabused: 1) "Suburbs are a respite from centralized planning." We found the opposite to be true. Is there anything that conforms more to the Soviet ideal than a dreary exurb cut into farmland and paved over with concrete? "Nature," pretty much consisted of a drainage ditch…er.."retention pond." Every house was the same. (But, the developer did offer five different variations!) The president of the Homeowner's Association was as despotic as any Tamany Hall pol. 2) "The suburbs are cheaper." Not in our experience. Heating and cooling a suburban house is not inexpensive. If you have only one car, that probably isn't going to work in the burbs. Add that to the budget. 3) "Suburbs are better for spontaneous "play" and nature." Kids today are over scheduled, and everytime we saw them outside, they were usually getting in the car to go some planned activity. We did schedule "play dates," and, like many harried suburban families, apportioned time for "spontanaeity." The woods around our subdivision were lovely, but our neighbors advised us not to let our kids go in unsupervised because the other suburban neighbor children tended to commune with the flora and fauna while smoking weed. 4) "Suburbanites don't want your fancified new urbanist ideas about walkability and mixed use zoning." In Naperville, IL (our suburban locale) the most popular area is the "downtown." Years ago, the city muckety mucks decided to promote and develop the area based on "people friendly" ideas instead of endless automobile accomodation. They built a beautiful river walk, parks, a huge swimming area, and they don't allow you to drop a Target or a WalMart smack in the middle of it. It is the most "citified" part of the suburb, and, by far, the most popular. The denisty allows for many things-- great festivals, tons of family activities, a place for teens to meet and hang out (someplace besides the mall), and just generally a nice place to be out and about. It's for everybody and it's not gated. In the end, we found suburbia to be just another consumer good foisted on us (with easy credit terms!) called "the good life." So, we decided to sell off the cars, downscale, and head back to the city and a more conservative existence. I don't mean "conservative" in the politicized sense, but the philosophical one- - there are limits in life. And, it worked out really really well. Our child takes the dreaded Soviet form of transportation called "the train" to school in the morning. If she misses it, she IS prey to the unions' arbitrary scheduling-- and she sometimes has to wait up to five minutes for the next one. It's hell I tell ya! Of course there are many ugly and scary things in the city, but there are many beautiful and wonderful things too. That's life. We find city living more amenable to the world we're trying to prepare our child for- - one that's going to require more self-reliance, more "street smarts," less entitlement, and, hopefully, zero attachment to the almighty god of the automobile. It's actually possible to be happy without a car. (a very un-American thing to say) Contrary to the (silly) assertion of this post, no central planners "forced us back to the city." Btw, just who ARE these central planners that are forcing us back to the city anyway? This seems made up.

You made a choice based on

You made a choice based on your family's needs and preferences and were not hindered by external forces working against you. Congratulations. I'm glad you found what works for your family.

But in the next breath you hope that what's best for MY family is somehow made difficult or impossible, presumably by government force since no other entity exists with the power to take that freedom away. What do you have against individuals owning and using cars or trucks? I don't care whether you want to own and use a personal vehicle--whatever works for you. Yet you are more than willing to see your personal preference shoved down my throat. What is that all about? Why should you have your personal preferences forced upon me? Why do you want to have your personal preferences forced on me?

I admit I wouldn't dream of allowing my kids to ride mass transit alone in the early morning until they were at minimum 16 years old. The mere thought gives me chills and I haven't endured it in more than 25 years. I can only imagine it now. But your child, your decision. I didn't want my kids to have to learn "street smarts" at all, much less before reaching young adulthood, so that perspective is almost alien to me but again she's your child so you choose her upbringing.

How about you extend to me and the rest of the population the same courtesy and rights that you assume for yourself?

A sample of the people advocating forcing populations into dense urban areas may be found on this site at http://www.newgeography.com/content/001465-forced-march-to-the-cities . You may find others using the search engine of your choice and the terms "sustainability," "urban planning" and--my personal favorite for Orwellian irony--"smart growth."

You may also listen to the news station of your choice and hear government officials make statements like, "About everything we do around here is government intrusion into people's lives," [Ray LaHood] said. "It is a way to coerce people out of their cars. Yeah." http://www.boston.com/news/politics/politicalintelligence/2009/05/lahood...

Or you check out the Orwellian "Partnership for Sustainable Communities" plan ( http://grist.org/article/2010-02-24-obama-admin-wants-to-green-your-loca... ) Odd that the only "partners" are federal agencies.

Where I live the urban area has given up on people willingly moving back and have resorted to annexing large swaths of developed, unincorporated property to bolster its ever decreasing tax base. The few people who still reside in the city limits overwhelmingly vote for annexation based on the promise that their tax bills will be shifted to the annexed. Thankfully I will be long dead before the annex axe reaches my property line but many thousands of other families are having to sell and move to escape the tax burden, crime and myriad other issues that forced annexation brought to their doors.

I don’t remember taking

I don’t remember taking “another breath” and advocating the federal government do anything. Smart growth or otherwise. To be totally candid, I prefer the federal government get out of the home ownership promotion business entirely. They should stop giving preferential tax treatment to home owners over renters. No Fannie or Freddie, no highway subsidies, no mortgage interest deduction. Once you put things on a free market footing, people, with their natural capacity for innovation, will organize their living arrangements accordingly.

This is what I really believe frightens shills for suburbia. (Like Joel Kotkin) They’re always whining that new urbanists are promoting the interests of the city “over” the suburbs. What they really want is for the federal government to promote the interests of the suburbs “over” the city. We get all this overheated rhetoric about “repatriating people to the city centers.” What many critics of suburban living point out is that the creaking infrastructure built to service suburbia and exurbia is literally falling apart in many areas, and will be unsustainable and unaffordable in the coming decades. And, much of this bedroom community sprawl is made possible via Uncle Sugar.

One of the things I find truly silly in this post is that while the author crafts his encomium for the glories of the burbs, he concedes that children don’t want to go more than a few steps from the front door. WTF? Don’t these people realize they’re in Eden? Which is the point of my post. The suburbs are not Eden. They’ve got their drawbacks and problems like anywhere else. (ps: I don’t begrudge anyone car or truck ownership. Have at it! Enjoy traffic. I’m just saying, I’m happier without one)

If I misunderstood your

If I misunderstood your comments on cars I apologize. Note that I said "presumably" via federal government action to eliminate cars since you didn't specify how anyone would go about separating people from their cars. Having lived my first 26 years without a car I couldn't disagree more with your take, but that's the glory of America--we can agree to disagree. I live my life my way, you live your life your way and we're both happy.

I agree completely with getting the government out of home ownership. Fannie and Freddie are the next dominoes to fall and when they go belly up it's going to be ugly. I advocate a flat tax with no exemptions, no EITC and no threshold below which one does not pay the tax rate on income. Everyone would pay the same rate.

Since we skipped the suburbs completely I have neither affinity nor prejudice for them, but neither am I antagonistic. It's just another place one can choose to live. No location is perfect. It's a 30 minute drive to the nearest grocery store so I can't "run out" if I forgot or need an item. We do our errands on our lunch breaks or after work so we don't have to make multiple trips back to town. When gas was flirting with $5/gal our budget took a huge hit and we had to seriously rearrange our other spending to accommodate it. I drive 52 miles one way to work and even with a small car was spending $500+ a month on fuel. My husband's workplace is 30 miles out and our total fuel bill at that time was around $900/month. So no, my patch of heaven isn't perfect but I wouldn't trade it for anything in the city or the suburbs.

Don't get me started on infrastructure spending. My husband works in civil engineering and you would not believe the waste and cronyism in every government project--local, state and federal. I saw one estimate that in my state each road project costs 22% more than it would were it being done privately. The vaunted stimulus money repaved the same 10 miles of an interstate spur three times in 18 months, and that was in the urban area. The reasons behind the state of infrastructure are many and varied, but one huge cause is the misappropriation of funds. Every gallon of fuel purchased has a tax assessed that is supposed to go to highway maintenance. Where is all that money? The tax-free property in many cities is another issue. In my local urban area, 30% of all property is government owned or university owned, all of which is not taxed. Tackling that issue will require two things that are uncommon in politics--honesty and reality.

Regarding infrastructure, all but two of my utilities are provided solely on my property. Electricity and telephone service are run to my property, of course, but water and sewer are both dealt with on my property without any infrastructure at all. We take our trash to the dump since there is no garbage pickup here, and the road to our home is dirt (that was supposed to be paved 15 years ago, but oh well.) Our infrastructure use and needs are minimal and cost other taxpayers nothing. We paid to have both electric and telephone lines installed when we moved here. So why the push to move us back to the city? It's not like people living 30 miles away are paying for our water/sewer/electric/phone, etc.

When my eldest daughter was 2 years old I threw our one television away. Our kids grew up without a television. Most people thought we were insane but given the results I am so glad I stuck to my guns. If parents didn't allow their children unlimited access to TV/game systems/computers the kids would have to find other things to do and would be outside much more. That's a problem everywhere, not just the suburbs.

Additionally, most parents are far too wary to allow their kids to wander like we did when we were young, especially in urban and suburban areas. I dare say someone would call DSS were a mother to say to her child, as my mother said to me, "go outside and play, come home for dinner when the sun is setting." It would be considered neglect or child endangerment today. The solution to that problem is far beyond my pay grade but it is one reason we chose to move so far out. The greatest risk to my kids was snakes and we taught them how to avoid and if necessary deal with serpents.

I noticed that you refute the claim that people are trying to force others to return to urban areas. Did you read the link I provided to Ray LaHood's statement regarding the subject? He's the Secretary of Transportation (I don't think he left the Obama administration) and flatly said that the Federal government is doing everything possible short of physical force to move people back into urban areas and out of personal vehicles. Then there are the myriad bloggers, university professors and professional urban planners who are all trying to do the same thing. Forced repatriation into urban areas is not a paranoid fantasy. It's reality and its proponents aren't afraid to admit it. Of course all their efforts are currently "voluntary" or economic pressure. They haven't resorted to using the power of the government to physically force most people out of their homes and into government-approved city dwellings. Given their public statements, though, it isn't hard to imagine that happening in the future. I would love to be wrong about that.

Frank Lloyd Wright insights

Frank Lloyd Wright did once comment to the effect that people's preferences might stem from whether their ancestors were cave-dwellers or hunter-gatherers.....!

He despised the "concrete canyons" and "the tyranny of rent". (See my other comment about land prices). I find it interesting that writers as disparate as FLW, Henry Ford, Charles Booth (social reformer) and Ebenezer Howard (early urban planner) all clearly understood "the tyranny of rent" and how automobile based development was ending it.

Excellent point, and one I

Excellent point, and one I hadn't considered. I'm not familiar with most of the people you cite but home ownership would be next to impossible if everyone lived in a high-rise simply due to the cost, and equity in one's home is a huge store of wealth for the middle class.

One of my friends moved to NYC in the late 90s, lured by a $85,000 salary. That's excellent money here. He found out that $85,000 was good for a mere 350 square feet atop a bar in a dilapidated building. He lasted two years before moving back. He told me that he had to leave NYC because he couldn't survive on $85,000. Apparently everything costs two or three times as much in NYC, right down to a soda at McDonalds. I can only imagine what his current 2000 sq ft home would cost in NYC. My guess is he would never be able to afford the same home were it in NYC.

Thanks for the insight!

This is about a lot more than just "preferences"

Of course everyone's location choice, if they are a typical family, has to involve compromises on location relative to two jobs and one or more schools. Not every couple is going to have skills and qualifications and desires in life that will fit them to normal kinds of central city employment. The suburbanisation of jobs is heavily weighted according to the land intensity and the income level of the employment sector concerned.

See also my comment on land prices below; I address the question of "subsidies" there:

http://www.newgeography.com/content/003916-suburb-hating-anti-child#comm...

Employers locate where they can afford to, too.

If dad is a stock broker and mum is a media executive, it might make sense to live in "the city", but perhaps the kids best interests are not the driver here? I call it "The Second Life Fallacy" of urban planners to assume that everyone can live in mini-Manhattans and ride on replicas of the NYC subway system. This kind of local economy is in any case a "vampire" sucking the wealth created in suburban industries, out of the real economy. The USA, and the world, would be better off without Wall Street. Finance should be "handmaiden to industry", not the reaper of 50% of all profits earned in the entire economy.

And don't get me going on bureaucratic parasitic concentrations of employment.....

It is worth noting here that the main opponents of any proposed international financial transactions tax in current international crisis negotiations, is the Conservative government of the UK. They are well aware of what this would do to the economy of London. The always insightful Oliver Hartwich in the “Business Spectator” 14 Dec 2011, comments:

“……Merkel and Sarkozy could not have been under any illusions that Cameron would pave the road towards curbing the power and profitability of the City of London. Finance is the only major industry left in post-modern Britain. Besides, anything that weakens London’s position would automatically be a promotion of its closest European rivals in Paris and Frankfurt…..”

http://www.businessspectator.com.au/bs.nsf/Article/euro-debt-crisis-Came...

Note his comment about finance being the only major industry left in post-modern Britain? This is what happens to an economy where planning assumes that every sector in the whole economy can pay global finance sector "rents". As Cheshire and Hilber (2011) "The Political Economy of Market Revenge" point out, every city in the UK, no matter how small and economically stagnant, has higher central land rents than Manhattan......! Imagine, if you can, every city in the USA being like this, and what it would do to the chances of, say, the manufacturing of machinery. Even Silicon Valley started on low cost rural-exurban land.

Chicago

Congratulations. I wish you and your child(ren) well.

Good luck.

It's really not a matter of good policy

so much as voting patterns that inform the "progressive" push for urban centers over suburbs. The left is now doing what the right has done for years in terms of looking for patterns and trying to amp their numbers through back doors. It's disgusting on both counts, because it's not informed by making a logical case for anything, it's simply a matter of trying to corral people into their fencing.

Urbanites vs Suburbanites vs Rurals--really?

I grew up in urban areas and despise cities to this day. The congestion, filth, lack of privacy, constant exposure to undesirable elements (think panhandlers, drunks, etc.) and overall atmosphere of any urban area are personally repugnant and there is nothing a politician or a geographer could do to convince me to return short of a loaded rifle to my head. Yet I have no issue with anyone who wants an urban life. If urban living is your ideal by all means, live there. I don't care.

For some strange reason many politicians and some geographers have made my forcible return to the urban area their lives' mission. Many residents of urban areas make a point of ridiculing us while voting for measures to forcibly repatriate those of us who fled and corral those who were never been there to begin with. Why is that? Why does Obama or anyone else care where I choose to live and raise a family?

When my first child was an infant my husband and I moved not to a suburb but to a rural area 30+ miles from our workplaces. We refused to raise our children in the urban area and the suburban areas weren't much better in terms of schools, crime, affordability, etc. Our eldest is now married and expecting her first child. She and her husband are doing everything possible to raise their family in rural areas given the realities of military life.

I am neither a geographer nor a politician, and I have long been struck by the assumptions each make regarding the intensely personal decision of where to live and raise one's children. The notion of "class segregation" immediately invokes a marxist flavor that I reject on the premise of my life experience, yet it is somehow a bludgeon with which to beat suburbanites? The assumption that mixed architecture is superior to standardized architecture (the "boring" meme) and the offhand negativity toward personal vehicles are both personal opinions that, while perfectly valid for the individual making the statement, have neither authoritative nor factual basis from which to demand others agree and consent. Honestly, why should Obama's personal opinion matter one iota? Why should politicians and geographers and central planners have any say at all into where a family decides to live?

Contrary to central planners' assumptions, I've never heard anyone clamoring for mass transit so one can sell one's car(s) and be restricted in one's movement by the arbitrary schedule dictated by the mass transit union. The city council in the local urban area cannot get a penny sales tax increase passed to fund the bus system because no one rides the bus if they can possibly avoid it. I well remember the drunk vomiting two rows in front of me, the homeless man snoring on the seat opposite the aisle, and the panhandlers at every station. I still recall the graffiti on the walls, knife marks in the vinyl seats and the fear every time someone got on the bus: is that one of the gang bangers or a drug dealer or a flasher? I remember the relief when the new rider was an elderly woman who looked at me with the same cautious, assessing glance. I will never again ride mass transit for any reason and by design my children never suffered its dangers and indignities.

Only brute force will bring the central planners' dreams of all Americans stacked atop each other in Tokyo-like proximity to fruition. Lacking force, free people will decide for themselves where they want to live. Many will refuse to live in cities, and some will refuse even suburbs. Why that freedom causes so much angst is beyond me.

I can write thousands of words extolling the virtues of rural life, particularly for children. My kids knew the cycles of planting, growing, and reaping as they watched the fields around us. They raised laying hens and know that chickens are among the dumbest of creatures yet the most vital for human nutrition. They had their own little gardens, struggled with pests and disease, and celebrated success with fat, ripe tomatoes dripping juice down their chins. They played safely in field and wood, watched by the few families within line of sight, and knew that any misbehavior would be immediately reported to Mom and Dad. They raised a goat, played with the neighbors' herds of horses and cattle, spent summers with dirty feet and smudged faces, sang while flying on their swing set and learned the names of the birds that live on and pass through our acreage. They protected wild hares from our dog and vainly tried to nurse an injured mockingbird nestling thrown from the nest. Their schools were safe and effective, supplemented by Mom and Dad at every opportunity.

The difference was summarized when at the state fair we passed a display of wheat, combine, flour and bread. The kids asked why it was there and Dad answered, "to educate people about where bread comes from." The kids were astonished that anyone wouldn't know that most basic thing and didn't believe the explanation for years.

If other parents wants to raise their children in the city I have neither reason nor authority to pass judgement on their decision. Why so many feel vested with the authority and insight to pass judgement on those of us who fled urban areas is a mystery but one thing I know: no one will ever convince me or my now-grown children that life in the concrete jungle is healthier or more desirable than the life we've lived among the fields and trees, even with a long commute.

City-lovers, enjoy your lives in the city. Suburbanites, enjoy your lives in the suburbs. Rural citizens, enjoy your lives in the country.

Central planners, leave us all alone.

Wonderful post

Wonderful post, and wonderfully written. Thank you for that.

hi to all

Buy 5-IAI China I enjoy after finding this precious post and also would like to say thanks to you for such a informative post. You have done a very impressive work.

Suburb Hating is Anti-Child

I ask: what business is it of the authors or for anybody to dictate policy that would prohibit anybody from moving out into the suburbs?! I know that in California they have made it cost prohibitive as well as made miles of red tape for developers to even construct new suburbs! All of the so called intellectualls want us to move to the cities for all of these pre-conceived notions that were stated in the opening paragraph of this article! If I want to isolate and segregate myself from the chance of encountering gang bangers, thugs, or the possibility of my children being shot in an urban environment because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time, then I think I should have that right! If I just want to be left alone, and not pay the crazy property tax that is usually associated with living in a megalopolis, then I should be able to do so! I don't even feel the slightest bit guilty about doing it either! If I chose to live among like minded people, then I should have that right! I also know that our federal government is starting a dangerous precedence of using the census to locate and force lower income people into higher income areas, using tax dollars to subsidize them. That is going to lead to a lot of problems! I believe we have a right to choose where we want to live and move to where we want to !

Why Not Change The Schools?

By the time I was 8, I roamed 2 miles from home nearly every day, and in decent weather might be found 20 miles away - I had a bicycle and also hiked. Sometimes in the woods - which extended with a few breaks for roads about 100 miles to the ocean - sometimes in the city - which extended 20 miles into the next state. I don't suppose parents today would approve, possibly on grounds of real risks, possibly for other reasons (the modern fear of just about everything).

Yes space is good. So is cheap and decent public transportation, so I could visit the big city library by bus for the kind of money I had to spend ($.50 round trip for a kid).

I don't care if people segregate themselves, but I prefer not to see organized efforts to exclude other types. Gated communities maybe, restrictive deed covenants NO.

Why the Hell schools are any business of the general public escapes me and YES I DENY that paying for something conveys any right to an opinion about it. Certainly DEPENDING on something DOES NOT grant the right to an opinion either.

It is those who experience the benefit or otherwise, the efficiency or otherwise, of products and services who ought to control what happens, Not voters not taxpayers not administrators and certainly not employees. START by excluding voters taxpayers administrators and employees from any control at all over schools - except amount paid in the case of taxpayers; direction of employees for administrators; whether to quit or not for employees; and no role whatsoever for voters.

Let the parents run the school. Period. If necessary, voucherise and privatize the whole mess.

City being anti-child.

After over 25 years handling these situations... I would offer 'luke-warm' support to the author's thesis. Liberal ideology dictates an urban planning approach that calls for centralization of population and resulting required services and infrastructure. Centralization in a urban environment makes it is easier to provides services, and control such.

However, children need breathing room, not cheek-to-cheek 'other children'. For the health of the child, to develop better, to have individual playgrounds in one's own back yard... move to the suburbs or beyond. Growing up with Trees is far better than growing up with tall buildings or streetlights.
HB

housing policies keep minorities out of established suburbs

You need to also differentiate also between established suburbs relatively close in to the nearby city and those that are newer and farther out. The close in suburbs engage in anti-single family home policies as rabidly as do the cities. Because of affordable housing mandates, a handful of high density buildings get built near train stations, but the deed restrictions often makes them uneconomic to build, so relatively little is actually built and housing quotas or plans are seldom met. This acts to limit the stock of single family homes relative to the demand driving prices higher and enriching their owners further.

Families with children, by definition almost always headed by young(ish) adults, are these days about half minority and even more in some states. These housing policies are act to enrich older, often white, homeowners while keeping young minorities out of pleasant leafy neighbourhoods. How that is not discriminatory I don't know.

Yeah, but we need to go forwards, not backwards

There are solutions to this, but we need to acknowledge that urban growth containment that forces up the cost of all land in an urban area is a HUGE backward step and causes far more harm to lower income people than any efforts at assistance can ameliorate.

I find it ironic that a certain kind of advocate is always against "exclusionary" suburbs, yet they often love exclusionary CITIES like Boston, Seattle and Vancouver. In fact they generally claim that "smart growth" results in local populations that are brighter, better educated, and higher income, which makes even less sense than claiming this about exclusionary SUBURBS (which no-one has the chutzpah to do).

In fact Prof Nicole Garnett of Notre Dame writes "....there is something slightly unseemly about dramatically curtailing suburban growth at a time when racial minorities are responsible for most new suburban population gains. It is difficult to avoid concluding that changing the rules of the development game at this time is tantamount to pulling the suburban ladder out from under those who previously were excluded from suburban life by economic circumstance, exclusionary zoning, and intentional discrimination.......”

Look at the UK to see what happens when ALL cities have these policies that force up the cost of urban land. The bottom quartile in a US median multiple 3 city is many times better off in terms of the living amenity they enjoy, than their counterparts in any UK city. The overcrowded inner city slum conditions that are now a small-scale holdover from the past in most US cities, are much more prevalent, and rising, in the UK.

The UK also illustrates how this is not a matter of racial minority status, but of socio-economic class. The UK has slums full of "white trash" that upwardly mobile Asians flee as soon as they have the means.

Confirming little factoid

Valuable little factoid from a new WSJ book review (by Joel Kotkin)

".... Metropolitan Atlanta's African-American homeownership rate is approximately 40% above those of San Jose and Los Angeles, approximately 50% higher than Boston's, San Francisco's and Portland's, and nearly 60% higher than New York's....."

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142412788732476970457901072257308853...

pro-city, pro-child

I think you make a fair point about schools in cities being difficult for kids--our three boys in NYC public schools have experienced overcrowding, and as a parent you hear/read about overcrowding. That aspect is certainly minimized at larger suburban schools.

I'd disagree with your defense of the suburbs as stemming from young families moving out of the city. While my experience witnessing that is anecdotal, I think a lot of that trend is due to where one grows up ("I grew up with a yard and a dog; therefore, I want my kids to have that."); I grew up in NYC and can't imagine a better place to raise kids.

You make a good point about play space. While I'd be tempted to romanticize stickball and playing in open fire hydrants, that's certainly less than ideal. Yet, at least in NYC--where plenty of young marrieds move to the suburbs--plenty more stay and congregate with their children in neighborhood playgrounds, even ones that are largely concrete.

In fact, I'd argue that it's very pro-child to be able to stroll from home to the playground, play with diverse others one wouldn't normally congregate with in suburbs, and then stroll around a dense neighborhood for a child to see all sorts of new things rather than staring at the headrest of the minivan seat in front of him or the DVD player overhead.

Howard Freeman

Design, duplication, and dispersion

There are suburbs and suburbs. I grew up in a suburb and was never dependent on being ferried anywhere by car. There was everything a kid could want within an easy walking distance of home, including the primary school I attended, playing fields, an adventure playground, the public library, a shopping arcade, tennis courts, more than one swimming pool, and exciting walking tracks and overgrown public green space. There was never a lack of familiar playmates either.

I have lived in suburban locations that are like this, all my life, without even having consciously decided to look for them. It just happened that "the right house" was coincidentally in a location like that, not in some more "sterile" location.

It is all a question of design, duplication, dispersion and affordability. Affordability is a factor of duplication and dispersion of the right amenities, along with an absence of growth constraints that force the cost of land up. Centralisation and concentration of the right amenities merely results in a strong spatial rationing effect by "ability to pay".

Suburbs

The rise of suburbs has always been politically paired with the rise of the middle class. After WWII, the desire to have "the good life" led to an exodus from urban centers as a rite of passage. Because this seems to reinforce the "middleclassedness" despised by leftist writers, the political left embraces views that would tear down suburbs ("The Rich") for the sake of largely liberal and dependent urban centers. It's a type of political consolidation that wins elections, but it ignores that for most children a childhood spent in the city is one where they are mainly indoors, mainly sedentary and often subjected to provocative and even dangerous situations that their suburban peers do not experience. This seems to go beyond just a dislike for the suburbs and into an active dislike for traditional families within the liberal mindset.

What is truly odd is that any belief system-whether religious or political-relies on passing views from one generation to the next. Having fewer children and supporting programs that do not support traditional families is hardly going to earn the people supporting these views much love from the younger generation. While nobody should be mandated to have kids, it's really rather shocking the number of well educated couples who choose to remain childless. I don't begrudge them their summers in France or their hip urban lifestyles because somewhere down the road they are going to need younger people to help them. Having not had their own children, these childless by choice folks will have to pay dearly for help. Right now, the hipsters in SoHo and San Francisco can't see thirty years down the road. As the sole caregiver for my 84 year old mother, I have seen the future. One without children will leave urban hipsters as seniors isolated and unloved victims of a government that doesn't value them.

Interesting point, EllenK.

Interesting point, EllenK. In my large extended family only one elderly member, my great-aunt, spent time in a nursing home. All other elderly family members have been/are cared for in by the family in someone's home. My great-grandmother, who died when I was 19, was cared for by my grandparents, with the help of four adult children and a passel of grandchildren, for more than 15 years. We were pressured to put her in a nursing home more than once but the family refused and had a nurse come in when required. I can't imagine not having had her in my life as a child and young adult. Her perspectives and unique needs shaped me in ways I've yet to realize.

I have friends who are childless by choice and I wonder what will happen to them when they are elderly. They won't have the family to take care of them in their infirmity. I've been inside nursing homes and they are not a place I'd want to spend my last days. Even the best are staffed with people for whom the elderly person is part of the job, not part of the family.

I suppose "professional companion" will be a growth industry in the next 20-40 years.

Response from a pro-city, pro-child urban designer...

1) There are plenty of vaild reasons for families with children to live in the suburbs. Such places are often the only affordable options, particularly for large families. Most urbanists don't (or shouldn't) look down on those who choose to live in suburbs, because it is often the only choice. The relative affordability of suburban life is only possible with a slew of subsidies, and the relative expense of city life in most places is only because of the encoded difficulties and consequent rarity of building such places today.

2) The author is too quick to link poor education to cities, rather than to poor social conditions in particular places. There are plenty of terrible suburban schools which the author conveniently ignores. A child's willingness and ability to learn has more to do with his family structure and values than with neighborhood density.

3) I will give the author credit for his criticism of the separation of schoolchildren and their neighborhoods, but he whitewashes this effect in the suburbs, where it is perhaps more pronounced. Unwalkable, unsafe arterial roads combined with absurd state/municipal requirements on the amount of land required for new schools make it impossible for suburban children to live in the same neighborhood as their schools, in most suburbs.

4) The charge that cities don't have adequate spaces for play, even with public parks, comes from an overprotective and unimaginative mentality. In a traditional city, narrow, often brick-paved streets with wide sidewalks in a well-connected network slow and disperse traffic naturally, making streets safe places to play. "Eyes on the street" keep children safe, too.

5) "Suburb hating" doesn't hurt children. Bad policies and un-virtuous families do.

Also, Mike, I give you

Also, Mike, I give you credit for your recognition that suburbs need some sort of reformation to improve their quality for children. Are you familiar with the urban design concept of the transect? It's a visual way of understanding the changes in density, height, and types of buildings, as well as their relation to public space, as one moves from the edge of a city to its center. It's organized into "T-zones" ("T" for transect), T-1 being essentially rural countryside to T-6 being a city's dense core.

The transect accounts for a suburban zone - T-3 - and a general urban zone - T-4 - which closely resemble the more traditional streetcar suburbs of the early 20th century. These zones more easily permit larger single-family homes with front yards, but also preserve more urban walkable public spaces with narrower traffic lanes and wider sidewalks. You might find the transect, and these zones in particular, a helpful way of thinking about the changes you propose, and further, in thinking about how these less-dense types of places might be incorporated into urban neighborhoods where there's already the structure of a community with civic places and spaces.

As one last counter to your comment: "But what we shouldn’t do is try to force families to live in dense city centers. Most families don’t like it there, with good reason." I would argue that what we already do is force families out of urban neighborhoods. We should not presume one-size fits all for families. There are plenty of working and middle class families who actually would prefer life in a denser urban neighborhood for many reasons (they don't want to rely on a car, they want to live closer to work, school, family, church, etc., or they simply prefer urban neighborhoods) but can't afford it. Seventy-five years ago, the opposite may have been true, when urban neighborhood life was the norm for middle class families.

Price of land makes major differences, unnoticed by many

Bill, what you are leaving out, is the price of land. Paying the cost of "subsidies of sprawl" is far cheaper than paying a whole lot more for an artificially rationed supply of urban land.

The "Costs of Sprawl 2000" paper suggested that the cost of sprawl is about $50 per household per year.

The cost of housing everywhere that urban growth is "contained" by planning, is always at least double that of the free-to-sprawl cities even as space is sacrificed (look at the UK's cities). The median multiple is always 6+ versus around 3. The result of this is thousands of dollars per year more cost to households in payment of PRINCIPAL (the price of the house itself) without even calculating the extra interest paid.

The alleged savings on transport costs cannot possibly make up for this, and in fact the "causative" mechanism is certainly the lower discretionary income left after housing costs, rather than any actual "efficiency" of the more compact urban form. The "Costs of Sprawl 2000" report even had a chapter that showed that the higher the median multiple, the more households are "priced out" into longer commutes - the increased transport costs always being less than the savings in housing costs - Real Estate markets simply work this way. And congestion is always worse in denser cities.

It is not "subsidies" that drive "sprawl", it is economic realities. You could eliminate the subsidies, and RE markets would still function to "price out" people from the most efficient central and TOD locations. That is not to say that subsidies do not cause an even higher level of sprawl than economic realities, but it is not an on/off switch for sprawl.

Everywhere that has LESS sprawl always has much higher urban land prices, and it is necessary to look for the reasons STOPPING people from spreading out onto lower cost land and bringing all the prices down. It is forced growth containment that is a damaging aberration, not "sprawl".

I agree about the poor design of many suburbs, but this is a matter to be addressed by good design, not growth containment and forced centralisation to where the amenities are claimed to be superior. In fact mini-CBD's can be anywhere, and walkability can be anywhere. It is "TOD" that cannot be everywhere. We must not ban suburbs, we must make them better.

An important note: it is far easier to sacrifice land to "public amenity" purposes if its cost is as low as possible - many urban areas with a UGB have land inside the UGB that costs $2,000,000 per hectare; compared to fringe land in affordable non-growth-contained cities being $40,000 per hectare or less. In which scenario are developers going to be happier about sacrificing space to parks, playgrounds, schools, community halls and facilities, "walkability", bike paths, etc etc? It is "suburbs" built on inflated-price land that are truly diabolical. Postage stamp lots crammed into cul-de-sacs in patterns that have been mathematically designed to maximise the number of saleable properties; narrow streets; minimal number of intersections (waste of valuable space); minimal amount of public, green space; no bike paths or walking tracks; etc etc.

Left behind are the less fortunate kids, with their families.

The conclusion should read:

"Suburb hating hurts fortunate children. Politicians who advocate anti-suburb policies are hurting fortunate children. They are, dare I say, anti-fortunate-child."

Which leaves us with the conclusion that unfortunate kids are worthless to those who advocate for a "new geography" of suburbs as the preferred public policy.

Or does the "new geography" include some means of providing the same mobility to the unfortunate as to the fortunate? Housing and car vouchers for the poor and working poor so they can living in the suburbs?

The historical norm is not the trend

The trend for decades now, and indeed this is the norm as economies develop, is for core cities to "gentrify", and lower income earners to be forced out. This has led to certain types of advocates lamenting the poor being "forced to live in automobile dependent suburbs", and "the suburbs becoming the new slums". You just can't please some people.

Of course planning and zoning in some urban areas make everything unaffordable, so the poor presumably have to leave the entire urban area altogether, and go to Texas or Georgia where affordable suburban homes are the norm.

But the jobs for lower income earners mostly suburbanised long since, and access via transit is unworkable. Transit suits concentrated, not dispersed, destinations. I recommend:

"Transport and Social Exclusion - A United States View" by Lori G. Kennedy

Google search it; it is online as a Word Document.

Agree

No place is ever designed to treat its less well-off decently, by definition - they aren't in charge of anything. In my opinion, zoning ought to be entirely abolished. There is no reason to protect anyone's property VALUES, only their property.

Also I think all property owners ought to be charged for the maintenance of public infrastructure serving their property, particularly roads and transit. All new development ought to be assessed the full net cost of road and transit construction, beyond whatever might be recovered by the constructing agencies from future increases in taxes collected due to the development.

If that halts new development until rents and sales prices that people will pay rise, so what.

The poor need to work out who their real friends are

".....No place is ever designed to treat its less well-off decently, by definition....."

I kind of agree, but just note that freedom of fringe growth leads to stable house price median multiples of around 3 even as houses attributes improve like most consumer goods; but when there is regional fringe growth constraint (UGB or zoning) the opposite happens - land prices inflate faster than people downsize. The UK's cities have median multiples of 6+ even though the housing space is many times less than a median multiple 3 city.

I argue that the consequences of this, which can be seen in just a few minutes research on RE sites, is that the bottom quartile in Houston or any of the dozens of median multiple 3 cities in the USA, will enjoy superior attributes of housing than everyone in the UK except the very top few percent.

So the absence of planned constraint DOES lead to the less well off being "treated more decently".

I strongly disagree with upfront levies to pay for infrastructure. Land taxes and proper pricing of infrastructure use are a far superior way of assuring that the costs and benefits are accurately matched. I strongly recommend "Containment Policies for Urban Sprawl" by Mason Gaffney.

http://www.masongaffney.org/publications/e3containment_policies.cv.pdf

The inherent injustice of upfront levies, is that the prices of new housing are inflated thereby, and the prices of new housing set the prices of all existing housing. If 150,000 miles of "road user charges" were included in the price of new cars, used cars would be a lot more expensive too. The result of this is that anyone buying their first car - or house - pays the equivalent of the charge as a windfall gain to the seller of the property, that they themselves do not recover until they or their estate disposes of their last home decades later.

It is an exposure of the kind of vested interests that drive urban planning these days, that growth containment is "popular" (it drives up the value of all existing property investors portfolios), upfront levies are "popular" (same reason), yet every new "public" investment that benefits incumbent property owners (especially, for example, light rail lines in CBD's) is never paid for by levies on those incumbent property owners. Hmmmmm.....