Streams

Trouble in the Suburbs

Monday, April 28, 2014

Job growth has been weak in the suburbs. The Regional Plan Association has released a report, "Fragile Success: Taking Stock of the New York Metropolitan Region", with a section on why the suburbs are falling behind. Juliette Michaelson, vice president for strategy at the Regional Plan Association and manager of the Fourth Regional Plan, talks about the problems.

Guests:

Juliette Michaelson

Comments [48]

It strikes me that there is no vision in the planning and design on Long Island. There are certainly some nice towns on the North shore, the amazing Jones beach, and some beautiful public gardens like Westbury. But really for an area this big, there are very few notable places. Where would I take a visitor to show them something unusual, that they couldn't see somewhere else? Where are the great public places, grand boulevards, even the best amusement park? It seems like nothing notable has been built since the era of Robert Moses.

A lot of families where I live in Brooklyn are feeling the stress of higher housing costs and need extra room for their families. When they consider moving to the suburbs they look for good schools, good transportation and a sense of community. I can't be positive that those qualities don't exist anywhere on Long Island but no one is considering moving there. Suburban communities need to evolve to be competitive and remain vital, instead most of them are just trying to be as good as they used to be. Families used to move from the city to the suburbs for a better life, but now the city is safer, taxes are lower, and schools are better. The city upped its game, now the suburbs are getting left behind.

Apr. 30 2014 05:01 PM
Underemployed from New Yorker

I recently interviewed at Pepsi in Westchester. It's nice that they have transportation which picks up employees in NYC, but the pay was crap for a temp job. IBM doesn't give pensions anymore. So, these fortune 500 employers who the state keep giving subsidies to are not paying well and they are not attracting better workers especially as both these companies outsource their hr departments to temp agencies.

Apr. 28 2014 10:52 PM
New Yorker from New York City

"Doesn't this supposed shift in population mean that housing prices will eventually fall in those areas (just as greater demand in the city means prices are rocketing)? If housing costs fall in the burbs, they become more attractive to younger folks again ... it's a cycle."

There is no correlation between price and desirability. Urban areas are attractive to the youth because of amenities and walkability.

Poverty IS relocating to suburban areas on the other hand.

The suburban model is unsustainable.

The core will be considered increasingly desirable along with adjacent areas with appropriate mass transit option (e.g. rapid transit and to a lesser extent commuter rail.)

"On a more grim note, it's important to invest in our suburbs in case there is a terrorist attack in NYC. I'm not sure if you came across all those recent nuke articles in Time Magazine, Bloomberg, the Washington Post, other newspapers? Apparently there's a 28% chance in ten years that terrorists use a nuclear bomb to destroy a city, according to Professor Bunn from Harvard who did a long study/analysis of the chances."

The suburbs are nothing without NYC. This city is the very reason for their existence and the job center of the metropolitan area. The effects of nuclear fallout would not cease at city limits. Nor have I ever read any report of a 28% chance of terrorism which is greatly exaggerated.

Apr. 28 2014 10:09 PM
Tom from UWS

Doesn't this supposed shift in population mean that housing prices will eventually fall in those areas (just as greater demand in the city means prices are rocketing)? If housing costs fall in the burbs, they become more attractive to younger folks again ... it's a cycle.

That said, yes, these suburbs are now semi-urban and need to have multiple-dwelling buildings. They can look to converting factory or warehouse space, old schools, etc, as well as new construction.

A good model is today's Asbury Park, where new apartment construction (low-rise) downtown is helping the downtown area get a permanent, full-time viability.

Apr. 28 2014 12:58 PM
David from East Patchogue, NY

I recently relocated to the suburbs after many years of living in Manhattan. I scoured real estate in Brooklyn and many other places but the cost of condos, co-ops etc. as well as rental options were astronomical. Living out here on Long Island is by no means inexpensive....factoring in home heating costs, gasoline for auto and property taxes. Nevertheless, it is still way lower than anything I could afford in New York City. Just an opinion.

Apr. 28 2014 12:49 PM
Marrach from Brooklyn!!!

On the Financial side of the Argument-- I hear a blindspot in the discussion. There is a presumption of 'Natural Affluence'

The discussion seemed to ONLY talk about what people think of as the "Well-To-Do" parts of Long Island. The BIG lots and the BIG McMansions.

People should remember that the population you're talking about Living on Long Island-- Even though they are in a single family home..and they are white...they ARE NOT WEALTHY. The Suburbs that are in trouble are NOT the Places where the TRUE Wealthy Live; it's the parts where the WHITE MIDDLE CLASS Live. 'Cause frankly-- I don't think this lady's study gave a crap about the Majority MINORITY parts of Long Island!

What made them FEEL wealthy was the pre-2008 Housing Bubble that made what I would call a 'Bungalo' worth 750 grand on the Market. And the people IN those Bungaloes and OLD frame houses STILL think that someone is gonna put themselves into debtor's prison for a House that is OLD, in Need of EXTENSIVE & EXPENSIVE repairs, with AGING Utility Infrastructure, where the POWER GOES OUT every time there's a Storm, where there are NO JOBS Nearby besides the Local Malls....

That green lawn and fresh paint on the walls, in the middle of NOWHERE... that the original owners only paid $20,000 for...it AIN'T worth three quarters of a MILLION dollars. The Age of the Pretty, Pristine Middle Working Class Suburb of the 70's is Over, Folks. The World has changed.

And Folk's, a lot of the Black Homeowners in Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx are in NO HURRY to GIVE UP what we fought to KEEP VIABLE here in the City to go running after an old Has-Been Suburban Dream that never wanted Us in the First Place.

We're Here to Stay.

Apr. 28 2014 11:44 AM
Joe from Westchester from Westchester

I'd argue that public policy should encourage a shift to the NYC suburbs as an affordable alternative to increasingly unaffordable housing in the City and take some pressure off of gentrifying neighborhoods that are displacing long-term residents. Housing costs in the inner-lying suburbs are actually quite affordable compared to those in NYC, and commuter rail lines provide good access to NYC's jobs. The $700,000 spent on a 425 square foot studio in Soho profiled in yesterday's NYT's real estate section, buys a nice home and good school district in most parts of Westchester County. So rather than asking whether we should care about the suburbs, perhaps we should recognize the interdependence of communities in the NY metropolitan area and look at creative ways that suburbs can help solve some of the central city's problems, like the dearth of affordable housing.

Apr. 28 2014 11:34 AM

I heard your segment on WNYC. I wanted to suggest that existing subway lines get extended farther out. For example, extent the 1 subway north through Yonkers. It may pay for itself if the MTA can sell existing rail yards in NYC and move those farther out. Subways come every 4 mins, vs the 30 min wait for the train. And subways go all the way through NYC, whereas the trains only go to grand central.

On a more grim note, it's important to invest in our suburbs in case there is a terrorist attack in NYC. I'm not sure if you came across all those recent nuke articles in Time Magazine, Bloomberg, the Washington Post, other newspapers? Apparently there's a 28% chance in ten years that terrorists use a nuclear bomb to destroy a city, according to Professor Bunn from Harvard who did a long study/analysis of the chances. Separately a giant survey of 300 terrorism experts across the globe (diplomats, professors, analysts) conducted by Senator Lugar / the US Senate coincidentally had a mean likelihood of 29% that terrorists use a nuke to destroy a city in ten years (i have a copy of this report if you want it, but you can google it and get it from the fed gov't, too). NYC is considered to be the primary target. Time Magazine (March 26, 2014) cites a higher chance: "Experts have recently estimated the probability of such an [nuclear] attack in the near future at between 30% and 50%." Gawker (March 27, 2014) puts the chances higher at 68%. Chance of a dirty/radiological bomb was greater than 50%. And the Cambridge University Center for Existential Risk said in 2013 that this risk is currently increasing over time not decreasing. So not planning for this in the long run may be unwise.

Again, sorry for the second grim topic. But I do think subway lines that go farther out would be great. As well as a line that connects the bronx to queens and brooklyn and La Guardia airport.

Thanks.

Apr. 28 2014 11:33 AM
Marrach

I live in Brooklyn...but as the child of Parents who remembered being turned away from Long Island because they weren't White back in the late 60's and settled and became Homeowners in Brooklyn...I now know the delicious feeling of Schadenfreude.

Because NOW, the realty industry in the 60's and 70's that went through White Neigborhoods hollering "The Blacks are Coming! The Blacks are Coming!" is now sticking flyers in my door Asking: "Do you want to Sell your Home?"

Answer: "Hell No! This house will stay in the Family."

Apr. 28 2014 11:26 AM
jf from brooklyn hell

The suburbs are sustainable if they build bike roads/paths like in Maryland, Massachusetts....and people choose to ride their bikes everywhere on the beautiful natural surroundings. If people grow their own food on their lawns it's more sustainable than cities. Solar power, wind power, hydro power.....cities are polluted disgusting horrors.

Apr. 28 2014 11:25 AM
Tom from UWS

Doesn't this supposed shift in population mean that housing prices will eventually fall in those areas (just as greater demand in the city means prices are rocketing)? If housing costs fall in the burbs, they become more attractive to younger folks again ... it's a cycle.

That said, yes, these suburbs are now semi-urban and need to have multiple-dwelling buildings. They can look to converting factory or warehouse space, old schools, etc, as well as new construction.

A good model is today's Asbury Park, where new apartment construction (low-rise) downtown is helping the downtown area get a permanent, full-time viability.

Apr. 28 2014 11:22 AM
Pete M. from Nassau

The government makes living here unaffordable with extremely high taxes, then comes up with plans to have affordable housing, which the other tax payers will still have to pay even more for the privilege of urbanizing their neighborhood and making housing even more expensive. Typical NY logic.

Apr. 28 2014 11:22 AM
Gregory from The Bronx

As long as the state legislature controls what happens in NYC and as long as the landlords continue to be their A1 contributors nothing will ever change.

Apr. 28 2014 11:22 AM
fuva from harlemworld

(Yes, caller, gentrification in black communities is morally problematic. Gentrifiers are in serious denial.)

What about the loss of skill attendant with the move to the cities, as acknowledged in the segment on 'The Knowledge'? City life is environmentally progressive, etc., but isn't there an attendant loss of knowledge about how nature and infrastructure works?

Apr. 28 2014 11:20 AM
"Fascinating and unreported"

Lots of professional black families moved from Brooklyn out to this area of NJ on the Raritan Valley Line, planning to commute into the city, assuming they had "made it."

They find massive train delays, huge tax bills compared to the city -- and school systems overrun by immigrants! This is a group that strives to move away -- often back to their southern roots.

Apr. 28 2014 11:19 AM
Rich P from Long Island

I grew up in Queens, but I've lived in Bay Shore for 20 years and I never want to leave. Bay Shore is multi-ethnic, multi-religious,...etc and we also have affordable housing units. I must admit that I don't know of ANY other place on LI like my town, so we might be an outlier.

Apr. 28 2014 11:18 AM
Mary from Brooklyn

The callers Carol and Becca were great. I totally agree. I grew up on the South Shore of LI, and the boating and beaches were glorious. But in High School, I could not wait to get to the city, and after college, I moved straight to Williamsburg (1990). Luckily, I escaped from there to Clinton Hill ten yrs ago. I still go back to LI to see my people, and the waterways are still wonderful, but ugh! The dreariness of Sunrise Hwy and the provincial thinking... ugh!

Apr. 28 2014 11:18 AM
RJ from prospect hts

Westchester and Nassau have had lower rent-regulated increases than NYC in recent years.

Apr. 28 2014 11:18 AM
Tanya from Brooklyn

LOL. You have segments saying how young professionals are starting families far later in life. hmmm, perhaps that's delaying their move to the suburbs to start families... Could be?!

Apr. 28 2014 11:18 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

I say modernize the housing projects and build them higher but with more amenities around. WE need more skyscrapers not more suburbs!

Apr. 28 2014 11:17 AM
Chip from Freeport

NYC is becoming it's own suburb . Bland white homogeneous below 110th st. I've lived
in Manhattan and have always loved the city but it is becoming a dull place filled with transplant
finance types from Ohio. The Bloomberg era architecture could be Dallas or Hong Kong- towers of
million dollar apartments don't make for an urban vibe. Move to Detroit.

Apr. 28 2014 11:17 AM
Nicole from White plains

We left Park Slope, Brooklyn for the suburbs for more space and better schooling and are returning after our year lease is up on the house. Our trial period out here resulted in us deciding to move back to Brooklyn for the better sense of community, we will sacrifice the space for a cheaper and quicker commute, there is far more to do in the city for us and our daughter and when we buy we won't be paying the outrageous taxes that Westchester has!

Apr. 28 2014 11:17 AM
MikeInBk from Clinton Hill

I wonder what young "black" couples with children, moving in to Inwood, would connote for Inwood in Brian's example?

Apr. 28 2014 11:15 AM
BK from Hoboken

I would like to hear about train line suburbs vs those farther away from commuter trains. The difference in vitality, wealth, etc is probably fairly stark. As a jersey guy, the towns doing the best are places like Westfield, Summit/Chatham/Millburn, Monctlair, Ridgewood, etc. are all attracting families moving out of Hoboken. They stress transportation accessibility, revitalized walkable downtown with mixed use developments close to the trains (commercial space bit also more affordable apartments (not a lot but some), etc.
that said, I am not leaving Hoboken any time soon unless become less satisfied with our local catholic school.

Apr. 28 2014 11:15 AM
Chris from Bed Stuy

Hasn't the general consensus been for some years that suburban sprawl is a "problem". If the suburbs are declining or stabilizing isn't that a good thing??

Apr. 28 2014 11:14 AM
Jen from downtown

Ugh, the suburbs totally suck.

BUT, people who live there -- please STAY THERE. Because I'm sick of tripping over you all, blocking the sidewalks of my neighborhood and doing that Valley-Girl talk and vomiting everywhere.

Thank you.

Apr. 28 2014 11:13 AM
John A from WC

More concerned with energy abuse here.
Make it so bikes can move around freely - very limited access unless you violate law and drive on a highway.
Nearly triple the bus service. I love my car but I know this is wasteful.
Add little access bridges so pedestrian traffic can cross highways.
There should be a bus within 1 mile of any point in Westchester.

Apr. 28 2014 11:13 AM

The suburbs of NYC will have to adapt. Mixed use and walkable communities with mass transit will succeed while the old "drive to do anything" will decline. The European model is the way of the future, with higher density and adequate mass transit in cities.
I lived on Long Island and agree the mentality is insular and the lack of stimulating activities is real. Long Island needs more mass transit to survive.

Apr. 28 2014 11:13 AM
Bob from Huntington

Brian,

You need to address the Long Island's neanderthal politics: It's still dominated by fat, white, middle-aged
white men with an overdeveloped sense of entitlement.

Apr. 28 2014 11:13 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

More subsidies for the SUBURBS???? Hell no! They got decades of tax breaks to live in the sticks thinking they are the superior people to those of us who prefer looking down from high rises. No money for the suburbs! If you can afford it on your dime, fine. If not, forgeddaboutit! I'd rather live in the Housing Projects than in the suburbs. The people in suburbs are insufferable snobs who think the constitution gave them the right to tax subsidies for a picket fence and 1/4 acre of land.

Apr. 28 2014 11:12 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

More subsidies for the SUBURBS???? Hell no! They got decades of tax breaks to live in the sticks thinking they are the superior people to those of us who prefer looking down from high rises. No money for the suburbs! If you can afford it on your dime, fine. If not, forgeddaboutit! I'd rather live in the Housing Projects than in the suburbs. The people in suburbs are insufferable snobs who think the constitution gave them the right to tax subsidies for a picket fence and 1/4 acre of land.

Apr. 28 2014 11:11 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

More subsidies for the SUBURBS???? Hell no! They got decades of tax breaks to live in the sticks thinking they are the superior people to those of us who prefer looking down from high rises. No money for the suburbs! If you can afford it on your dime, fine. If not, forgeddaboutit! I'd rather live in the Housing Projects than in the suburbs. The people in suburbs are insufferable snobs who think the constitution gave them the right to tax subsidies for a picket fence and 1/4 acre of land.

Apr. 28 2014 11:11 AM
Bonn from East Village

My grown-up nephew, two nieces and their parents, one by one, all moved to Raleigh near each other because of the high Nassau County taxes. Their areas look exactly like where they lived on LI. To me, sterile, boring and insular, now with a Southern mentality. They are all culturally challenged, have no interest in the world or anyone but their own spheres of self-interest. I grew up in the city. They are family, but we have nothing in common.

Apr. 28 2014 11:10 AM

Agree with Carol 100%. I couldn't get out of the Huntington area fast enough. Very insular. Very racist. Have lived in NYC, London, Taipei and San Francisco since. Would never go back.

Apr. 28 2014 11:09 AM
Mike from Jersey City from Hudson County, NJ

Brian, you've got that right.

The only difference is that people on the Island -- land of my birth -- know they are insular.

Manhattanites, on the other hand, remain a blissfully ignorant of their own insularity as they were in the days of the famous New Yorker cartoon.

Apr. 28 2014 11:08 AM
Stephen from Clinton Hill

As a Scarsdale native, one major factor that will reverse this trend in Westchester County is the population growth and development of major population centers within the county, such as White Plains and New Rochelle. Both of these cities are more affordable than the Manhattan with reliable public transportation and more and more choices for entertainment.

Apr. 28 2014 11:05 AM
Daniel

Why assume that there's at all a correlation between growing up in the suburbs and wanting to live there? Maybe the two have nothing to do with each other. Those who grow up in the city might have the same probability of wanting to live in the suburbs as those who grew up in the suburbs. If this is the case, one would naturally expect population flow.

Apr. 28 2014 11:03 AM

Early days. Pleasant suburbs will exist but will probably take hundreds more years. The structures I see in NYC's suburbs today, almost without exception, seem like temporary, flimsy edifices -- much like those depicted in 1800s American West.

Apr. 28 2014 11:02 AM
Simon from Manhattan

This is becoming a pattern of bad journalism here. Affordable housing and apartments does not bring in any income or help growth- it uses it. It is affordable because it is subsidized and usually tax abated. The subsidy comes from the rest of the residents, it doesn't fall from the sky. On that note, it costs 24k to educate 1 child per year, build density with subsidized property tax rates and where does that come from? The other residents via increased tax burdens.

As for the affordability of housing, taxes on LI and Westchester cost more now on average than people's actual mortgage. In most cases on a typical home it is over $1000 per month alone. That is the problem.

LI is "growth-ed" out. It does not need more residents, I think most here would agree it is already over congested. It cannot sustain more residents. We get our water from an aquifer under our feet that is becoming more and more polluted due to the density of the housing we already have, not some reservoir 200 miles away. We have very few ways on or off the Island and already over used arterials. If urban density is your thing, look west, it is already there.

The growth we need here is certainly not more people, it is business and quality jobs (not cashiers, clerks or cooks working in some refurbished downtown). We used to be an engineering, technology and aerospace center. The lunar lander was designed here, the commercial planes and fighters were designed or built here among other things. Those were real high income jobs and provided a real tax base which retail (what you are indirectly suggesting) does not. Real high income businesses are fleeing due to the number one problem here - taxes, and secondarily energy costs. And your "solution" does nothing but increase those. You want to help growth, you need to get those kinds of businesses back and with that you'll get the young and highly educated back to fill those jobs.

We've already reached a tipping point where we've lost the character of LI. The things that made people want to pay a premium to be here. As it becomes more Queens sprawl, it loses the reasons for residents who provide the real tax base to be here. Why pay ridiculous taxes to live that way and not just actually pick up and be close to the city? Makes no sense. If you don't have open space, really what is the point?

Apr. 28 2014 11:02 AM
Mario from Washington Heights

Like many people, I felt that growing up in the suburbs was alienating, isolating, and limited my options.

On a personal level I couldn't be happier to hear of the decline of suburbs, although I am very concerned about a future where the suburbs are populated by mostly the poor. The inherent flaws of suburbs when it comes to lousy transportation and poor housing construction are hidden when middle class people live there and can afford to spend large amounts of income on car expenses, fixing homes, because they have higher paid city jobs. As suburbs increasingly become the places where society puts its poor, the suburbs will trap people and keep them isolated from meaningful opportunities in a manner that could surpass that stigma of inner city living of the 1970s-1990s.

Apr. 28 2014 11:00 AM
Diana

Our desire for room/space has become obscene, but I don't want to live in an apartment. I like smaller houses with smaller lots (no more than 1/4 acre) walkable, with communiting options and a downtown. Add nice communal parks/open spaces and I'm in heaven

Apr. 28 2014 11:00 AM
simspsonsmovieblew

Pollution and broken infrastructure leading to soul-crushing commutes make today's suburbs nasty and cancer-causing.

But the suburbs will always be heaven for criminals without MBAs!

Apr. 28 2014 10:58 AM
Dee from Montclair, NJ

I live in a suburb. If my neighborhood is any indication, all of Brooklyn is moving here. There are more NY license plates than NJ plates.

Apr. 28 2014 10:58 AM
Stephan from Manhattan

Brian, clarify please. Where exactly are these suburbs? I didn't know NYC had suburbs.

Apr. 28 2014 10:57 AM
Greg from Beacon, NY

I think that the term "suburb" is just too broad. I live in "suburb" of New York City in the Hudson Valley. However, it is very walkable and has a Metro-North station. I walk to Main street to get groceries and walk to train station to come into NYC a few days a week for work. Very high quality of life in my opinion. And the town is thriving. No type of living is right for everybody but "suburbs" vary greatly in sustainability and vibrancy.

Apr. 28 2014 10:55 AM
Laura

I think there are several issues here.

First, is there a form of elitism? The city is too expensive for many people to live; saying that the suburbs aren't important is a way of being dismissive for those who cannot afford to live within NYC.

Also, transportation from many parts of the suburbs is atrocious. This is a huge problem for development.

Also... cities only survive because of the infrastructure around them, not just the infrastructure within them.

Apr. 28 2014 10:55 AM
jgarbuz from Queens

Suburbs shall die a slow death, although the recent discovery of vast amounts of cheap natural gas may save them for a short while, but inevitably the suburbs will turn back into farm land. The future is UP and not sideways.

Apr. 28 2014 10:08 AM
antonio from baySide

I believe it's going to be hard to change the suburbs because everything about it is decentralized and sprawling. Also, all the descendants of the folks who bought into the Robert Moses style of living have been lulled into inaction by the belief they are all living in sort of self-reliant utopia (e.g. everyone has their own car, their own home, their own lawn etc.) You have to start over or try to sell the idea of walk-ability and transit, which is a tough sell because of the aforementioned Moses philosophies...

Apr. 28 2014 09:52 AM

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