Suburban Slums and the New Urbanism Antidote- a guest post by Sharon McMillan, the New Urban Mom

Sharon McMillan is the voice behind The following is a guest post from her that examines how New Urbanism can act as a catalyst to reinvorgate and revitalize the moribund slums of suburban sprawl:

As much as I understand how this happened, I was still surprised to learn that according to the Brookings Institute, between 2000 and 2008, suburbs saw their poor populations grow by 25 %. Brookings further adds that this rate is almost five times faster than urban poverty growth. The recent recession only made things worse.

When my family left the city in 1970, we moved to the suburbs for a better lifestyle. But unlike recent trends, we made the decision within realistic and manageable financial constraints. The move meant my mother had to work and I was one of possibly two children in my class whose mother worked outside the home – a novelty for the suburban family of that period.

Fast a forward a few decades and we see a new trend in the suburban movement with the increase in popularity of the “McMansion” – large homes with large mortgages, located hours away from where residents work and marketed primarily to consumers willing to be mortgaged to the hilt in exchange for increased square footage.

Not only had the dream of suburban living become financially debilitating in recent years, but the 2-hr commute, each way to/from work, contributed its fair share to our global warming dilemma.

Now we have a situation in a number of major cities across the United States where relatively young communities/suburbs are suffering a degenerative breakdown usually seen in our much older and beleaguered urban city cores.

Additionally, as older cities become more gentrified by savvy baby boomers and young, educated and more affluent professionals, more people are moving to the suburbs out of necessity rather than choice. Many of these new suburbanites have difficulty maintaining and adjusting to communities built for cars and little else.

While the solutions to eliminating suburban slums are no doubt multifaceted, it’s clear that approaching our suburbs as potential new urbanism projects is a huge step in the right direction.

Unlike beleaguered cities, which in most cases have decent transit infrastructure, ethnic enclaves, and urban institutions to support revitalization efforts, many suburbs – especially those built quickly – have few of those structural or cultural amenities.

In many cases, these bedroom communities consist of little else beyond homes, the odd recreational center, and endless half-empty shopping malls.

In addition to having new urbanism planners who can make positive and creative changes to these suburban landscapes. there is a need for those who live there to develop a new mindset.  And they need help.

Communities are more than places for us to sleep after work or school.  They need to be places where we can strengthen our relationships with the people we live with and live close to. That’s more likely to happen in places where we can be inspired by creative artists, local farmers’ markets, innovative work at home (or close to home opportunities), and functional social, architectural, and green space designs that physically bring us together.

One way to support these kinds of changes is by generating conversations in the traditional media, online, at churches, temples and synagogues, in schools, and between families and neighbors. New Urbanism needs to take its show on the road…beyond planners and directly to the people renting, buying, and focused on realizing the American dream in today’s sober, post-recession world. That’s an antidote for change we can’t live without.

- Sharon McMillan, New Urban Mom.






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