Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Suburban Failure

Instead of pooling in the core, the poor are increasingly on the urban periphery:

Of particular note, the [article] discusses the significant increases in food stamp receipt occurring in many suburban communities, now that a majority of the nation’s metropolitan poor live outside central cities. Indeed, the counties in which food stamp receipt has doubled, and which have at least 5,000 recipients today, are largely suburbs--around Atlanta, Florida’s Gulf Coast, Austin, and Youngstown. As my colleagues Elizabeth Kneebone and Emily Garr reported earlier this year, however, increases in food stamp enrollment in outer suburban counties have been somewhat lower than might be expected based on the rapid unemployment increases they have suffered. Lack of familiarity, distance to the nearest welfare office, stigma, or real eligibility differences may be to blame for under-enrollment in these farther-out areas.

The mention of Youngstown caught my eye. The pattern cuts across every American city. This raised doubts in my mind about the hypothesis that place-making projects are displacing the middle class from central cities around the country. In the December issue of Planning (not yet online), the executive director and CEO of the American Planning Association succinctly describes the concern on a global scale:

Lacking good governance, [the most vulnerable] are often the victims of an end-state type of planning that seeks to sanitize and beautify cities at their expense.

I think Aaron Renn highlights this problem in an American context in his latest New Geography article. Via my experience with the local planning and zoning commission, I can vouch for how real estate interests dominate our deliberations. But the result isn't a gentrifying core that pushes out the underclass. Far from it. There are plenty of residential areas around town that someone living on a meager income can afford. The same could be said about Youngstown (to state it mildly).

The mentioned push factors of migration don't add up. More likely, greater numbers of the rural poor are moving into cheap suburban tracts and those who moved out of the Braddocks of the world for a better life are now experiencing extreme economic duress. The most distressed neighborhoods tend to be the most geographically immobile. Those being priced out of town wouldn't travel all that far. More likely, they'll find another part of the city where real estate is still cheap or they will find a way to mitigate costs in the current residence.

The Creative Class displacement is overstated.

1 comment:

Mark Arsenal said...

Creative Class displacement is only really applicable to a few brand-name cities (I've seen it first-hand in San Francisco, and the argument seems sound for San Diego, Seattle, NY and maybe Atlanta).

For mid-sized cities, I have a feeling that changing housing policy, transit policy and consumption patterns have far more to do with the declining periphery than the creative class. The poor didn't always need cars to get to their increasingly marginal jobs.

There's lots of talk about the fall in housing and food as share of a working-class income, but I'll bet it's easily balanced by the cost of a ride - especially now that Cash for Clunkers has taken so many affordable used cars off the market...