Suburban Blight

The LA Times has an incredible article about the Willowalk development in exurban Los Angeles, which has been completely devastated the housing crisis (tip: Greater Greater Washington). Homes that were once selling for nearly half a million dollars are now appraised at a fraction of that value and panicked and desperate home owners are renting out the properties to low-income people with Section 8 vouchers.

(from Flickr user ifmuth)

I wrote about a similar issue recently. Suburbs, because of they way they were designed, will not be able to handle a demographic shift away from the middle-class and affluent to the poor and working-class. Even struggling cities, like Cleveland, have not been entirely devastated by blight because they are diverse enough to float through the toughest times.

If you need proof of what can happen to suburbs when things go wrong, look no further than East Cleveland, Ohio. This is the suburb where John D. Rockefeller and other millionaires once called home. Now, few will contest that it's the least-attractive part of the entire metro area. And it's nearly incapable of helping itself, because it has no tax based thanks to the high proportion of low-income residents. It's best hope is to be annexed by and become a neighborhood in Cleveland, but the city of Cleveland has little incentive to step in and try to clean up that mess.

Even more frightening is that East Cleveland isn't designed like the newer suburbs. It's very close to major employment centers and it has relatively good public transportation options. For suburbs that lack these features, once they hit their tipping point, watch out.

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