CNN: American dream has faded into suburban nightmare

The collapse of the American dream or the beginning of a new one?

That’s the issue Lara Farrar explores in an article on, relaying a story of how the once typical suburb of Elk Grove, California has turned into an abandoned, unkept, haven for young criminals. The foreclosures resulting from the sub-prime mortgage crisis and the increasing desire to live in a walkable community has one University of Michigan urban planning professor predicting a large shift toward “walkable urbanism” as already seen by Atlanta, Detroit and Dallas. Instead of labeling the American dream has “dying” he instead says it is “changing.” This view isn’t shared by everyone. The homeowner featured in the story says he would not want to move out of a suburban setting.

“”It’s the American dream, you know,” he said. “The American dream.”

Nevertheless, urban planning professor Christopher Leinberger predicts half of the urban development in 2025 will not have existed in 2000. In addition, about 22 million “McMansions” will be occupied by the several lower class families. This seems to be the only way to overcome the massive misallocation of resources that has been suburban development.

Thirty-five percent of the nation’s wealth, according to Leinberger, has been invested in constructing this drivable suburban landscape.

Perhaps with higher density, low income population these areas could support a more extensive public transportation system and spur less car-dependent urbanization. At the same time, the poor would be more likely to utilize the large lots of land for growing food in order to offset food costs, making this pattern of development more sustainable.

At least at face value, this pattern should be embraced. Is it possible the sub-prime crisis has given many homeowners the chance to “get out” of suburbia just as oil prices have started to crush the dream? It may not be as easy to move into a walkable community, with urban residential space costing 40 to 200 percent more, and for those remaining in suburbia, there is also the concern of crime. Nevertheless, it appears the market may have found an effective way to deal with sprawl in the long-run.


2 Responses

  1. Hello!
    I was so excited to see your opinion piece on CNN (link through Tree Hugger). Please look at these two books on our website
    Re-Inventing Collapse – the Soviet Example and American Prospect by Dmitry Orlov and The Long Descent – A User’s Guide to the End of the Industrial Age by John Michael Greer.

    Both of these offe very interesting commentaries on what else might be required for the end of the American dream – not just moving to the downtown core!

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