Nor are the suburbs necessarily wealthy. From 1999 to 2008, according to the Brookings Institution, suburban poverty grew a whopping 25 percent. In our 95 largest metro areas, poverty grew five times as fast in the suburbs as in adjoining cities. Today, one-third of the nation’s poor live in suburbs.
For example, Chicago’s southern suburbs include some of the poorest places in America — municipalities such as Robbins, Phoenix and Harvey — just like the city’s South Side. But they’re spread out, with limited public transit to shopping, schools and jobs.
Suburbs aren’t cool.
2In August, Travel and Leisure featured the nation’s 26 “coolest suburbs” that “blow up the stereotype” of these communities as “boring, conformist places.” The magazine focused on older suburbs with traditional town centers, such as Mt. Lebanon, Pa.; Birmingham, Mich.; Lakewood, Ohio; and other “culinary and cultural hot spots.”
Just consider the Washington region. Did you ever imagine that spoken-word poetry would take root in Rosslyn, Vienna, Chevy Chase and Kensington? Did you ever think that the District’s go-go music scene — largely exiled from the city by higher rents and a yuppie-friendly Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration — would take refuge in Prince George’s County? Did you ever dream that Busboys and Poets could thrive near the characterless condos of Shirlington?
Suburbs are a product
of the free market.
3Suburbs are a big government handout if there ever was one. Taxpayers are on the hook for the new roads, water and sewer lines, schools, parks, and police and fire services that make it possible for “self-made” suburbanites to live on the outskirts of town.
And building suburbs is expensive. A 2008 study by Arthur C. Nelson, a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah, estimated that it costs as much as $13,426 per resident when a new suburban development is built. In sprawl-plagued Atlanta, property tax rates rose 22 percent from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s as suburban development boomed. But during that same period in Portland, Ore., where the state protected rural land from suburban encroachment with restrictive zoning laws in 1973, property taxes dropped 29 percent.
Suburbia’s municipal fragmentation also makes government inefficient. New Jersey is rife with corruption in part because of the expense and complexity of maintaining 566 separate municipalities, each with its own city government, school districts and police force. If Gov. Chris Christie wants to cut government waste, he should lean on adjacent municipalities with duplicative services to merge.
Suburbs are politically conservative.
4In the 2010 midterms, a majority of America’s suburbanites voted Republican. Until progressives create an equivalent to Premiere Radio Networks (which carries Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh), conservatives will have an advantage in communicating with suburban voters during long commutes. Ten million to 20 million people a week, for instance, tune in to Limbaugh for up to 15 hours on 600 local stations.