Will Urban Revitalization Leave Some Cities Behind?

Chris Leinberger’s op-ed about the decline of the outer suburbs a few weeks ago in the New York Times has been widely praised and scrutinized in the blogosphere. A few of us remarked that the decline of the outer suburbs and the rise of the central city doesn’t seem to be a uniform trend across the United States. Cities like Louisville, Kentucky and Cleveland, Ohio flip the whole dynamic, to some extent.

Cheaply built houses + a weak market = disinvestment. But it isn't always suburbs at the losing end of this dynamic, say Rob Pitingolo. Photo: Flickr/Mark Strozier

Network blogger Rob Pitingolo at Extraordinary Observations says he agrees with the basic theory that urban areas hold a special appeal for the younger generation. But he thinks the trend is more complicated than Leinberger suggested:

At one point, the suburbs looked so much “nicer” because that’s where the building was – that’s where stuff was brand new. That’s not necessarily true anymore. Now, some of the newest, shiniest stuff is right in the heart of the city.

In high-cost cities, like DC… a $200,000 rowhouse rehab might be well worth the cost when you can turn around and sell the house for half a million or more. A similar job simply doesn’t make any financial sense in a city like Cleveland. In fact, the Plain Dealer article specifically says that developers aren’t building in downtown Cleveland without government incentives because the rents are too low to support the kind of investment they need to make.

I think the more realistic assessment of suburbs and cities is that some suburbs will see a precipitous decline, some urban neighborhoods will experience a renaissance, and the degree to which each happens will be highly dependent on local market conditions. In other words, it will happen, but it won’t be as clear cut as the magazine articles might lead you to believe.

Elsewhere on the Network today: The Transport Politic writes a eulogy for another Detroit transit project. After a particularly gruesome example, Stop and Move wonders why the media never follow up on hit-and-run deaths of pedestrians or cyclists. And Fort Worthology announces that shared bus/bike lanes are coming to its namesake city.