If gasoline and heating costs continue to rise, typcial suburban living may not be much of a bargain in the future. And as more Americans move into urban communities, families may find that some of the suburbsâ€™ other big advantagesâ€”better schools and safer communitiesâ€”have eroded.
As conventional suburban lifestyles fall out of fashion and walkable urban alternatives proliferate, what will happen to the obsolete suburbs? Are they the slums of the future?
In Seattle, we already have more gang activity in the suburbs than in the inner-city.
Christopher B. Leinberger in The Atlantic discusses these trends in The Next Slum. Many of the inner-city neighborhoods that began their decline in the 1960s consisted of sturdily built, turn-of-the-century homes, some even considered mansions, by today’s standards. By comparison, modern suburban houses, even high-end McMansions, are cheaply built. Hollow doors and wallboard are less durable than solid-oak doors and lath-and-plaster walls. The plywood floors that lurk under wood veneers or carpeting tend to break up and warp as the glue that holds the wood together dries out; asphalt-shingle roofs typically need replacing after 10 years. Many recently built houses take what structural integrity they have from drywallâ€”their thin wooden frames are too flimsy to hold the houses up.
The subprime crisis is just the tip of the iceberg. Fundamental changes in American life may turn todayâ€™s McMansions into tomorrowâ€™s tenements.