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Suburban Slums: Another Consequence of Suburban Sprawl

Original post made by Mike, College Terrace, on Feb 22, 2008

"In the Franklin Reserve neighborhood of Elk Grove, California, south of Sacramento, the houses are nicer than those at Windy Ridge—many once sold for well over $500,000—but the phenomenon is the same. At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. Graffiti, broken windows, and other markers of decay have multiplied. Susan McDonald, president of the local residents' association and an executive at a local bank, told the Associated Press, "There's been gang activity. Things have really been changing, the last few years.""....

Web Link

This is the kind of human and fiscal tragedy that carefully densifying our urban areas will prevent. Ultimately, we will pay a many times over for sprawl. This is just one of many ways.

Comments (23)

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Posted by a long time resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 22, 2008 at 10:52 pm

I just looked at a map showing the city parks. I noticed that College Terrace neighborhood has more than its share. One or two of these parks could be sold to quality high density developers and the city could make millions of $$'s and use the money to buy property where there are few parks in the city. College Terrace is near thousands of jobs and the people could easily bike or walk to work. Also the old houses that need tearing down as they don't meet the enviromental and safety codes could make room for more Hyette developments. Hanover needs to be made a 4 lane road also and all the way thru is old neighborhood. Access to Stanford to and from the Industrial Park is essential and would save 1000's of gallons of gasoline.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 22, 2008 at 11:15 pm

Of course, there are also extremists on the other side of this issue, like long time resident

We need to find a workable middle ground, instead of exaggerating things and shunning our responsibility


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Posted by OhlonePar
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Feb 22, 2008 at 11:30 pm

Mike,

I read that Atlantic article--and one of the things you're not mentioning is that we can expect to have a huge surplus of housing stock in the U.S. We don't need to increase our density here--we don't really need to be building at all.

We'd be better off making sure that existing developments also develop small urban centers.

In other words, Palo Alto would serve as a good model--as it is.
There's no compelling moral reason to make it a less pleasant and more congested place to live.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2008 at 1:24 am

OP, Without getting into esoteric detail, we all need to understand that our ability to adapt, and survive, as humans does not necessarily hinge on what appear to be obvious perceptive truths. Rather, our survival as a species depends on reproductive fitness - i.e. adaptation.

Perceptions that appear to be "obvious", or "true" - like the potential to generate "advantage" from the oversupply of housing that exists in failed suburban environments - make us less nimble, and adaptive.

In this case, "truth" (as you see it, and as would be borne out by the "laws of supply and demand" of housing) does not enhance Californian's adaptation to population increases, because the costs are too high. I've written about this in detail, elsewhere.

For instance, some good work has been done in New Jersey that clearly shows a negative payback result from building into open spaces, because we lose the many environmental benefits of those open spaces.

The consequences of suburban sprawl - spurred on by the "obvious" perception that "owning a home in the 'burbs' ", and "exploiting open space" etc. etc. are good things, belies the mounting evidence that niche-specific shortcuts like infill housing (to meet housing demand) in urban areas that project population increases actually provide a more efficient adaptation re: the environment, and thus, our survival in that environment.

There are some good computational simulations based on on evolutionary game theory, where virtual animals who perceive "the truth" compete with others that sacrifice "truth" for speed and energy-efficiency. The result of these fascinating experiments is that "truth" generally goes extinct.

We're still in a time when more optimal adaptations to population growth are battling against a less optimal activity of suburban sprawl, with sprawl being the established "good" or "truth" that happened for a time. Now we have to adapt to the problems generated by that sprawl. It's going to be a while before we reach a tipping point to that perception. That will happen, sooner than you think, because we are already facing some of the very negative consequences of sprawl.

What all this means to your argument - i.e. "leaving Palo Alto as it is" - is that your argument is moot, because growth is happening in California, like it or not. Palo Alto will continue to be a jobs magnet. Continued growth via sprawl will impact the environment - an environment all of us share - in a negative way.

"Leaving Palo Alto as it is" is a "convenient wish" that is not an optimal adaptation to the "inconvenient truths" of environmental degradation borne of population growth, and the suburban sprawl generated by same.


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Posted by Walter_E_Wallis
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2008 at 5:30 am

Cabrini-Green and Priutt-Igoe come to mind.


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Posted by RRun Down Neighborhood
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 23, 2008 at 5:05 pm

This is what we've got at Alma Plaza, a run down suburban slum.


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Posted by Parent
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 23, 2008 at 5:17 pm

Went to 7th/8th grade basketball tournament game in Sunnyvale middle school today. Fabulous gym. All of us parents commented on how nice this was compared to our own middle and high school gyms. Started commenting on how awful the school buildings were in general, and then the libraries. Get the picture. We Palo Altans are embarrassed by our facilities. Why can't we have what our neighbors have? It's not fair.

Sorry to sound like a middle schooler, but the answer isn't very nice either.


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Posted by ekim
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2008 at 7:56 pm

"At the height of the boom, 10,000 new homes were built there in just four years. Now many are empty; renters of dubious character occupy others. "

Mike interprets this to mean we should build lots more new homes here, pronto.

What possible reason can sustain this tirade?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 23, 2008 at 9:39 pm

ekim: "Mike interprets this to mean we should build lots more new homes here, pronto. What possible reason can sustain this tirade?"

The fact is that foreclosures on the Penninsula, and especially in Palo Alto, are tiny compared to the rest of the nation. We need to build more here to keep sprawl form spreading, with all its negative consequences.


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Posted by Jenny
a resident of South of Midtown
on Feb 23, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Parent, don't get embarrassed because PA doesn't look as good as Sunnyvale; we live in decaying gentile poverty!! That is far different than suburban slum!! Only when I see all the graffiti in Mitchell Park do I wonder!!!


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Posted by Ask Jenny
a resident of Green Acres
on Feb 24, 2008 at 11:47 am

Is that poverty different from Moslem, Hindu or Jewish poverty? or Iraqi poverty?


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Posted by never seen a city slum...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2008 at 11:06 am

Its pretty ironic to use talk of "slums" to attempt to put dense urban environments on a pedestal. I wonder if there have ever been any inner-city slums? By the logic of this Post, we should be converting dense city environments to park land to solve the slum problems in the cities. You can spin the data any way you want when you have an agenda...


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 25, 2008 at 12:22 pm

NSACS, "ts pretty ironic to use talk of "slums" to attempt to put dense urban environments on a pedestal"

Nobody is putting dense urban environments on a pedestal. The point being made is that we can shift dysfunctional suburban development to more functional, well-planned, and better distributed infill development, near transport corridors.


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Posted by just thinking
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 25, 2008 at 2:45 pm

One sure way to decrease future housing needs in Palo Alto - tell you kids that they should not hope to live in this city except: a) they move back in with you; b) they inherit your house.


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Posted by never seen a city slum...
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 25, 2008 at 2:45 pm

Spin it as you like. Use of a "suburban slum" motif shows a certain single-mindedness to ignore urban problems and assume that the desire to live in less dense environments is somehow "dysfunctional". The fact that city slums far outnumber suburban slums is a reflection on part of human nature. Given a choice, many people (of course, not all) just prefer not to live like sardines in a can, competing everyday with thousands of people for basic necessities (a seat on the subway, space on the sidewalk, or a place in school for their kids). They will get out of the sardine can IF they can afford it. During the last housing boom, more people than ever before thought they could get out of the sardine can and make easy money too. Now I agree that its going to get harder and harder to be able to afford it as the world population and per-capita consumption keeps growing.

The article linked in the post reflects the meltdown of a speculative real estate bubble that happened across the country where prices got ahead of people's incomes and greed drove people to places they couldn't afford ... I don't think this particular boom-bust cycle has a whole lot to do with infill development or transport corridors. Ask why people are losing these homes ... its not because they don't have access to public transit , its because they could never really afford the mortgages in the first place.



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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 25, 2008 at 3:21 pm

NSACS: "The article linked in the post reflects the meltdown of a speculative real estate bubble that happened across the country where prices got ahead of people's incomes and greed drove people to places they couldn't afford ..."

You're correct about the thrust of the article. However, what you appear to be missing is what drives people to the suburbs in the first place. It's the promise of a more affordable home; that promise resonates quite nicely with the American dream of home ownership.

Home "ownership", as most understand it, is an artifact from the days of 1950-1995, in California. In fact, the maintenance of that dream (really a myth, because the bank owns the home) led people to the sprawling suburbs, because there we no alternatives in built up areas, where home prices skyrocketed.

In essence, we have now reached a point where it is becoming very dangerous to our health and environment to continue the present pattern of development.

We could just say "let the market take care of it', but that won't fly anymore, because we have finally hit the wall re: environmental and other constraints.

When human societies meet constraints, they either adapt, or become dysfunctional, relative to those constraints.

We must learn to adapt to inconvenient truths. It won't be easy, but it must be done.


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Posted by Pan Gloss
a resident of Professorville
on Feb 27, 2008 at 12:47 pm

Mike is right. This is Palo Alto. The ordinary rules are for other places. Palo Alto is exceptional. It always does everything right. We can do anything we want here and it will turn out fine.


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Posted by Mike
a resident of College Terrace
on Feb 27, 2008 at 12:58 pm

Pan Gloss: "The ordinary rules are for other places. Palo Alto is exceptional. It always does everything right. We can do anything we want here and it will turn out fine."

that was funny, but more than a little off base from my intention. In fact, Palo Alto has done much that is wrong, especially in it's failure to procure - as a leader - a more robust regional solution to housing shortages, and suburban sprawl.

I'm confident that our leadership will come through for us, and our fellow neighbors.

THis is not an easy topic, and will no doubt get heated. That said, we all need to understand that there are some interests that supersede immediate rational self-interest: environmental sustainability is one of those interests.


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Posted by Greg
a resident of Southgate
on Feb 27, 2008 at 2:12 pm

"When human societies meet constraints, they either adapt, or become dysfunctional, relative to those constraints.

We must learn to adapt to inconvenient truths. It won't be easy, but it must be done."

Mike, BINGO! That is why we need to build as many nuclear power plants as possible, as soon as possible. That would be a realistic adaptation to a dyfunctional hysterial that currently exists.

Inconvenient truths are hard to swallow, Mike, but you need to learn to accept them! Only nuclear power will solve the major issues in front of us.

Go nukes!


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Posted by Paul
a resident of Downtown North
on Feb 28, 2008 at 3:33 pm

"Of course, there are also extremists on the other side of this issue, like long time resident

We need to find a workable middle ground, instead of exaggerating things and shunning our responsibility" - Mike of College Terrace

Mike: ltr simply proposed redeveloping your own neighborhood according to your ideology. For that you call him an extremist. Welcome to the NIMBY club.


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Posted by perspective
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 28, 2008 at 7:35 pm

All the do-gooders who think they know how to "plan" our economy and "plan" our housing...PLEASE, PLEASE...take those inclinations and move to China or Cuba..

Give me only the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and then get the hell out of my way.

For goodness sake..where on earth do you guys think you know "better" than millions of people making their own choices for what is best for them?


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Posted by Mike
a resident of another community
on Feb 29, 2008 at 11:40 am

China's planned economy seems to work extremely well. It's even got extra money to loan the US so it can cover the annual planned deficits of its unplanned economy.


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Posted by just thiking
a resident of Midtown
on Feb 29, 2008 at 3:14 pm

Pardon me, Prespective -
Where did you get the idea you have the right to "the pursuit of happiness" from???


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