Monday, March 2, 2009

Ex-Urbs - The new American ghetto?

The Las Vegas Sun reported on the economic downtown that has crippled Las Vegas, which was one of America's fastest growing cities. The fuel needed to continue the city's sprawling march through the desert has all but ceased as the city's main industries, construction, tourism and real estate have dried up. With no new buyers in sight, many of the sprawling McMansions built far away from the core now sit empty and deserted. The article quotes:

"All those half-empty neighborhoods on the edge of town become exurban ghettoes. These neighborhoods share the worst aspects of suburban life, specifically long commutes, big gasoline bills and the absence of urban amenities, while not offering some of the traditional benefits of suburbs such as big yards — the houses in many of the neighborhoods are packed closer together.

These structures, which were built cheaply and quickly, will become inexpensive rental housing, a process that seems to have already begun."

This would not be the first time a recently constructed ex-urb has quickly fallen on hard times. The Charlotte area, where banking is the top industry was also one of America's fastest growing cities in the 2000's. When the banking industry first began signs of falter in 2006, the effects on the Charlotte suburbs were immediate. Entire ex-urban housing developments, most likely owned by investors, were abandoned. Vacant houses were stripped down of copper wire and other materials by thieves and other vacants were being used by squatters. Costly infrastructure and utilities were wasted to these unpopulated housing developments. To add insult to injury, crime became another problem for ex-urbs adding onto wasted infrastructure and services costs.

Will this become the fate of Las Vegas? Some Vegas planners are already planning for a post-sprawl city. The article quotes:

"In fact, planning for a future that is more dense, more vertical, more urban and connected by mass transit could solve several problems at once.

...Las Vegas could draw skilled professionals it needs with a more varied development pattern that includes urbanism. If you want to attract really sharp engineers and scientists and creative people, having a city will make it much easier to do that."

Does this mean the city of fantasy will actually have to grow up to become a real city? More importantly though, does our fantasy of the American dream also have to grow up and face the reality that the dream is no longer sustainable?

What are your thoughts?


Kirk Mantay said...

This should be obvious to anyone who knows anything about planning....or is alive...but somehow developers and county governments refuse to see it. The shining proclamation that "the new American suburbs combine the best facets of the rural boundary and the nearby city amenities" is more laughable than ever....and yet, as Henry Rollins puts it...."we go with it."

How difficult is it to see that the opposite is true - most of the exurbs, maximized zoning density on small lots with very little usable green space, combine the WORST of city life (easy access to drugs and criminals) and the WORST of rural life (poor health care access and poor infrastructure).

Toure Zeigler said...

Unfortunately county governments get sold on potential tax revenues. The ironic thing is that these ex-urbs never offset the cost of infasturcutre and services while the existing residents pay for someone's else services that they will never get to use.