walkitout (walkitout) wrote,

_The End of Suburbia_, Leigh Gallagher (kindle)

Subtitled: Where the American Dream is Moving

Short form: Get it. Read it.

In this extremely recent book, Gallagher, a writer and editor at Fortune magazine, surveys trends in real estate that began before the bust and are becoming impossible to ignore. Gas is more expensive, thus "drive till you qualify", which made minimal sense before, doesn't make _any_ sense any more. Millenials want a different mix in their built environment, and they're starting to hit the kid-age and having those kids in built environments that are a better match for what they want and need. Aging boomers are retiring in place, changing the demographics -- just by being older -- of the suburbs they continue to dominate.

It would have been All Too Predictable if Gallagher had just gone and interviewed the usual New Urbanist suspects. But she didn't stop at Duany, Plater-Zyrbek, the Congress for the New Urbanism, Seaside and mixed-use-is-everywhere. She went and talked to people at Pulte and Toll who are building residential in cities. She went to a home builders conference (twice!). She talked to people who used to work for DPZ and Don't Any More. And she spent a bunch of time looking at census numbers.

While her take on the Baby Bust isn't the best, I am not prepared to complain about it, because it's hard to present those numbers in a way that neutrally represents reality. What Gallagher does best is depict the history of suburbia, its current state, and a trend which is still in its first decade-ish but getting market traction -- not just the cult of New Urbanism, but market driven mixed-use, walkability, smaller scale, less private realm/more public space orientation, blah, blah, bleeping blah. She recognizes the role played by changes in what government at various levels has funded in the past versus what it can fund going forward versus what it is funding right at the moment. She acknowledges the role played by changes in the cost of energy, notably vehicle fuel. And while she quotes Kunstler (you cannot really avoid him on this topic), she doesn't really get into it, which is just as well.

Gallagher is not heavily committed to a particular vision of The American Dream or Where People Will Live. She sticks to what the data indicates, which is closer-to-services-and-amenities, smaller, and with shorter commutes. Beyond that, there are a variety of different options that are currently available, and she speculates a little about some alternatives as well. Perhaps because of the time frame in which this book was researched, I think she wound up overly pessimistic about when/whether some subdivisions at the fringes would ever be finished/populated, especially in the Riverside-San Bernadino MSA.

It's a remarkable book. I rarely read books where I am so familiar with the material, and learn so much from the way it is assembled and analyzed. I hope to read more by her in the future.
Tags: book review, non-fiction, our future economy today

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