For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s–slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.
Leinberger also notes how this move away from the suburbs is reflected in the media:
These days, when Hollywood wants to portray soullessness, despair, or moral decay, it often looks to the suburbs–as The Sopranos and Desperate Housewives attest–for inspiration.
This is in contrast, and a reaction to, the forces behind the birth of film noir in the 40’s, captured by Richard Schickel in his Wilson Center article, Rerunning Film Noir, which I’ve linked to before:
After [WWII], however, the city’s glamour became much darker and more menacing. Noir quickly noted the gathering flight to the suburbs and the countryside. Or, at least, the desire of many people to join that flight. The genre began to offer this dichotomy: the suburbs as a clean, spare, safe, if not very interesting place to love a plain little woman and to raise healthy, normal children, versus the city, whose glamour was at once more menacing and more tempting than it had ever been.
Back in real life, Leinberger doesn’t think there will be a total reversal, but he does see it moving more towards equilibrium:
Despite this glum forecast for many swaths of suburbia, we should not lose sight of the bigger picture–the shift that’s under way toward walkable urban living is a healthy development….I doubt the swing toward urban living will ever proceed as far as the swing toward the suburbs did in the 20th century; many people will still prefer the bigger houses and car-based lifestyles of conventional suburbs. But there will almost certainly be more of a balance between walkable and drivable communities–allowing people in most areas a wider variety of choices.
I find Leinberger’s article interesting, both because of the media reflections, and because our family lives in a small city house, within a mile of many things. Due to circumstances, we had little choice but to buy our house at the top of the bubble, but this gives me hope that we’ll eventually recoup at least some of that value, as well as continue to cultivate a one-car, walkable lifestyle.
(I thought the Leinberger link came from Arts & Letters Daily, but I can’t find it there. Apologies for the lack of proper linkage.)