Stuck in Amber Part Deux
Almost immediately after I posted this blog about American suburbia being trapped in a stasis of past bad decision-making, I came across this Adam Kotsko post titled, “The Inertia of the Suburbs.” While I’m tempted to simply quote the piece in its entirety here, I’ll stick to one particularly helpful bit of history:
In the immediate postwar years, it seems as though there was a level of “buy-in” across the population, as the prospect of one’s own house, a car, etc., seemed like wonderful luxuries. By now, however, the suburban model has shown itself to be costly, environmentally destructive, and in many cases isolating and community-destroying. Further, the concentration of good schools in the suburbs perpetuates an ongoing vicious cycle of “white flight” that reinforces the systemic racism of our society. And as the financial crisis revealed, the aspiration to suburban middle class status increasingly carries the risk of financial ruin.
More and more people are realizing all of this and don’t want to buy into the suburban model — yet except for the very wealthy, there seems to be no real choice for middle class people if you want to have children. And the reason for this surprising persistence of a model that no one really wants anymore is the power of state planning. Even if the population could be initially convinced to want suburban-style development, the decisive factor was a concentrated effort on all levels of government to create all the necessary conditions for that lifestyle, through physical and legal infrastructure and often through explicit subsidies (such as the mortgage interest tax deduction, which seems to be invulnerable). All of the stuff they created in that heroic era of American urban planning is still in place. The roads and schools have been built, and the legal structures for expanding suburban development if needed are already in place and ready to go. All the incentives for middle-class families still point outward into the suburbs.
Not since Jim Kunstler’s The Geography of Nowhere have I read such a succinct history of how exactly America has found itself in this morass of horrible planning, bad design, economic inequality, and disposable human environments. And to make things even better, Mr, Kotsko ends his piece with this doozie:
Unfortunately, it appears that the U.S. only had one relatively brief window for such forceful state planning, extending from FDR to Nixon (only 40 years out of the 200+ of the Republic’s existence) — and it wasted it on the suburbs.
Head on over to Mr. Kotsko’s blog, An und fur sich, for this and lots more deeply intelligent blogs.