Richard Florida
by Richard Florida
Tue May 12th 2009 at 7:30am UTC

The Suburban Bulldozer

Amazing video of brand new suburban homes being razed by bulldozer. Apparently, Guaranty Bank of Austin took over the homes in foreclosure – four in a suburban Texas development and another 12 in one suburb in California – and is knocking them down ostensibly to promote a “safe environment” for neighbors, and more likely because it is cheaper to destroy them them to keep them on their books.

This may be just the tip of the iceberg. Once desired, suburban and ex-urban communities with cul-de-sacs, McMansions, and long commutes could be on their way to becoming the blighted and abandoned communities of tomorrow, accelerating the process Chris Leinberger documented in an essay for the magazine in March 2008.

A large and apparently growing share of mortgages are underwater according to this analysis in the Wall Street Journal:

And, the economic crisis appears to be reshaping America’s economic geography in ways that work against the Sunbelt’s cities of sand and sprawl where real estate development became much more than a way to house workers, but a key driver of economic development itself.

Long ago, I asked my colleague, the esteemed urbanist and architect David Lewis, what he thought was the biggest issue of urban revitalization of our time. He responded without hesitation that the eventual decline of sprawling, shoddily constructed, exurban communities would make the urban cores of cities like Philadelphia or even Detroit – with their compact infrastructure, dense neighborhood footprints, and authentic and historic structures – look like a walk in the park. Not to mention that this entire development cycle is a giant waste of resources and a potential drag on long-run economic competitiveness and prosperity.

7 Responses to “The Suburban Bulldozer”

  1. Michael Wells Says:

    Victorville is about 80 miles inland from LA, on the edge of the Mojave desert. It’s about 50% Latino, about 20% of population below the poverty line.

    While I agree that this is a crazy place to be building new suburbs, it’s also crazy to demolish half-built houses that people could live in. Could they have been donated to Habitat for Humanity? A lot of Latinos work in construction, and could have finished the houses for low-income families.

    The news story says the city was fining the developer for unfinished construction. I suspect zoning and nearby neighbors were an impediment to more creative solutions.

    The bad news just keeps coming for the Central Valley. Stockton, Modesto & Merced are on one 70 mile stretch of Hwy 99.

  2. hayden fisher Says:

    Inevitable and only the beginning. It’s good to see that at least some of the market players have checked into reality, as painful as the reflection in the mirror might be.

  3. Georgette Says:

    Sci fi anticipated this: give Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower a read!

  4. Steve M. Says:

    How come the highest neighborhood vacancy rates are in older industrial cities?

  5. Jim Meredith Says:

    Something coincidental with this inflected my thinking toward the concept of “certificates of need” through which states correlate the amount of health care construction to some proofs of actual need. Could this be a device to control the specualtive overbuilding that leads to disasters like this?

  6. Buzzcut Says:

    Jim, that is an awful, awful idea. Any licensing scheme (which is basically what you are proposing) inevitably gets captured by those being licensed, and used for their own purposes. Generally, it is used to make it unneccesarily harder to get into the profession being licensed, or to keep other, similar professions from doing certain work.

    So… your “certificate of need” would just be used by certain, powerful builders to keep other builders at bay.

  7. Buzzcut Says:

    I’d rather live in a “slum” that is an exurban development with houses that are a few years old than live in Detroit or Buffalo. At least the weather is niceish in the Central Valley. You don’t spend much on heating, that’s a huge savings. Especially this winter, poor people in the North had outrageous gas bills because their old houses are so poorly built.