This recent article on citiwire by Keith Schneider demonstrates how this country has reached a watershed moment. We are currently in the process of changing our settlement patterns of the past 50 years, but what will the next 50 look like? Schneider's view is that urban and suburban will function together. Today the suburbs are experiencing the same disinvestment, higher costs, and poor planning that many cities suffered through and came back from:
Here’s why. The spread-out civilization that America invented in the 20th century was largely the result of a handful of major market trends — cheap energy, cheap land, rising incomes, formidable government wealth. Our drive-through economy, and the culture of convenience and plenty (and anonymity) that it fostered, was possible because families could afford the homes and cars, and government built the highways and subsidized the housing that tied it all together. The big losers were cities, which hemorrhaged jobs, and marooned millions.
That description, though, now applies to hundreds of American suburbs, especially those without public transit, located far from city centers. In many of these, housing values have dropped 40 percent or more in the last 18 months. Yet nearer to the city center, in the seasoned older suburbs where transit and parks and sidewalks and neighbors are in closer proximity, America’s successful 21st century suburban form is taking shape. And we’ll be needing these more efficiently conceived, metro-connected suburbs in a nation that will add 140 million people by mid-century.
Meanwhile, according to recent studies, a growing number of cities are attracting residents and seeing their housing values either hold their own or slip much less precipitously than many suburbs. There are exceptions in still-struggling areas like Cleveland and Buffalo. But check San Francisco - it’s the only city in the Bay Area that saw housing prices actually rise — about 1 percent in the last year. Or Seattle, expected to grow to 680,000 residents and add 84,000 new jobs by 2022. Chicago is building more than 10,000 new units of housing within blocks of its $475 million Millennium Park, near the Lake Michigan shoreline, the prosperity wave including neighborhoods that were blighted a decade ago.
These trends represent an absolutely sane response to critical new 21st century realities — high energy prices, high land costs, static family incomes, scarce resources, government deficits, flagging competitiveness, global climate change, and strong U.S. population growth.
Now more than ever it seems that the planning community and citizens need to demand that our elected officials put in place regional planning (beyond transportation). If cities and suburbs in regions are going to function and work together and continue to create liveable communities, this can't be done in a vacuum. Rather, we need a larger plan that will will help dictate local initiatives. This regional plan should not replace local and community planning but needs to be a guide and supplement to it. Why should a region have thousands of different zoning codes and ordinances based by county, city, and township? In this example, we need to have zoning that is comprehensive and that will work towards creating a unified region. Regionalism should be the new buzz word.