Resiliency is a charcteristic normally discussed in relation to a single individual. The ability to persevere, to grow, to find resources, to face obstacles and keep moving forward is admired in people. What is good in a person is good in an entire community, too. The resilience of suburban living arrangements is increasingly in question. Leaving aside the possible energy and economic future of suburban living we think it fair to say that the suburbs simply grew too fast. Is it possible that traditional non-profit agencies, state/provincial, municipal, and even national governmental social service agencies simply cannot cope? A couple of academics associated with the University of California and the Brookings Institution recently studied the problems of suburban poverty in Chicago, Denver, Atlanta, and Detroit. An important conclusion was that philanthropy could make a serious counter attack on suburban poverty. In an era of public sector fiscal disaster it is hard to come up with other ideas, but will it happen?
The safety net is thin in suburbs despite growing poverty UC Berkely
Some effort is required to picture a hundred thousand houses, let alone that number left abandoned.
Here’s 100 of them for starters.
Images and statistics of a decayed and dying Detroit have been widely circulated and have become almost a commonplace feature of the Internet. The criticism of such imagery as mere ruin porn is justified …to a point. Yet, how ironic that Detroit is the place that spawned the Model T automobile. Mass produced for sale to the a mass industrial populace the Model T was the grand, uber-progenitor of the primary tool of participation in suburban living – the private automobile.
Squatters Are Taking Over Detroit’s 100,000 Vacant Homes
None other than Commie Rambo Ernesto Che Guevara wrote down a series of principles for suburban warfare. He saw the suburban environment as a unique and difficult venue for guerrilla fighters. His particular vision is long gone but others have been giving some thought to what might come to pass out on the perimeter. Survivalists have certainly been around forever and the invention of the internet gave them a boost. Normally, we’d associate this ammo-and-canned-food-hoarding crowd with rural areas, not suburbia. At least, until we came across these blogs that is. Perhaps things are changing? Did you know acorns can be an awesome post-collapse food source?
Lock and load!
Surviving the Suburbs
Suburban Survival Blog
Historica is the semi-regular feature on suburban-poverty.com that helps you learn how we got here in the first place. Levittown was North America’s first major post-war mass suburb. This short film features Ford tractors in use during Levittown’s construction. It begins with a drive out of New York City to the countryside where a new way of life was being built. The scene is almost cute by comparison to the monster home- and big box retail-dominated Edge Cities of today. You’ll also meet Ed, Ralph and Teeny, the guys who built Levittown. Thanks, guys!
The blog Infrastructurist published an interview in 2009 with Christopher Leinberger. He has done quite a bit to bring the concept of suburban poverty to the mainstream. Leinberger attributes much of the problem to supply and demand and to changing lifestyle expectations. In other words, the magic of the market created the problem and will fix it. Leinberger thinks it will take about thirty years for suburbia to adapt. We love the sound of many of the adaptations required: walkable, mixed-use urban hubs and rail-based public transit for example. He seems to be saying it’s a tall order but achieveable even if there will be losers along the way. Perhaps this effort at structural adaptation could be put in place under government guidance as a response to what really does seem like the end of growth but a dissonance emerges right away. A continental refitting of suburbia would require epic amounts of capital to start and maintain which makes Leinberger’s ideas seem almost hallucinatory given the impairments of the global financial system. At a couple of points Leinberger indicates he is well in touch with reality. He mentions the phenomenon of suburban houses converted into flophouses for groups of unrelated men. Certainly, Leinberger’s efforts at the Brookings Institution also indicate much comprehension of suburban poverty and dysfunction. His take on what to actually do with suburbia is both attractive and disappointing.
How to Save the Suburbs: Solutions from the Man Who Saw the Whole Thing Coming
We thought it might be useful to look at popular culture for evidence of suburban poverty. Much of what you come across in popular culture is aspirational, delusional even, when it comes to portraying class and social conditions. Among the things we found is this resentful dirge from fringe Republican Hank Williams Junior. The song refers to ‘this town’ but we see symbols and elements of suburban life. Williams croons from inside, or next to, a late 1950s Cadillac, there is a motor vehicle in every scene practically. Single family dwellings and working people populate the video. Things don’t look too hot – the repo man is after the pickup and there’s no work and apparently Williams paid taxes. Awful to watch and awful to listen to. A song and video like this is produced because nobody is living what it represents? …more to come from popular culture!
According to a recent report by Rowan University and Fair Share Housing Center suburban rental affordability in New Jersey was better in 1970 than today. That’s so long ago it might as well be 1870!
Report blames zoning laws for lack of affordable housing in New Jersey
Next bus in forty-four minutes, or fifty-five minutes, except on Sundays or before seven a.m. or after rush hour, …or maybe never! Typical scheduling for hard pressed working people dependant on Suburbland’s diesel bus dominated public transit. It’s a wonder anyone can hold down a job in Sprawlville. Long, multiple-transfer bus rides across Edge Cities in order to hold down some crap job suck the life out of you. We’ve wondered about the justice of this for some time here at suburban-poverty.com. Once again the Brookings Institution rides up with the evidence. God bless Brookings!
Job sprawl and the suburbanization of poverty
Newspaper columnist Heather Mallick recently wrote with some passion about a proposed fare hike for Toronto Transit Commission users. The TTC was once the envy of many a city but now is badly stressed, barely able to reconcile the urban and suburban needs of riders. God bless you too, Heather!
Mallick: TTC fare hike like poison for the poor
editor’s note: it once took us two hours and five minutes to get home from a gig cleaning cars in North York to our place in Parkdale. We had early signs of hypothermia when we got in the door. We have not harboured resentment ever since, fuckers.
For most of us, urban street people are generally what comes to mind when we hear the word homeless. People without secure and reasonable access to permanent places to live populate the suburbs in growing numbers. They are just less readily visible. They can include ‘couch-surfing’ young people, tent campers living alongside rivers or in woodlots and people in shelters or living in a motor vehicle. They are hard to count and hard to bring services to.
“Suburban homelessness has its own set of challenges. Suburbs often lack public transportation, shelters, and government assistance agencies. By far the largest hurdle the suburban homeless have to overcome is that they are not supposed to exist.”
Last refuge for the homeless: living in the car
Swedish researchers have linked marriage stress and failure with long commutes. In sociological enquiry of any kind the underlying idea seems to be to constantly generate new questions. This study does that in droves. Big mortgages for suburban homes require major time investments in commuting. Many now live in one suburb and commute to another suburb. Not easy.
Long commutes bad for marriage
“A long commute to work might further job prospects and put more money in the bank but it could also increase the risk for divorce by 40 percent, a new study from Umeå University in northern Sweden shows”
Towards the tail end of the boom the media in North America coined the term “supercommuter” for people cruising as much as ninety minutes each way between home and workplace. Presumably that was by choice. Now, the Great Recession seems to be incentivizing some long drives.
Recession breeds wave of supercommuters