More on Our Decaying Suburban Hellholes and De Facto Racism

Or why we need Social Justice Zoning Commissions.

While I’ve mentioned this before, it’s worth noting again that our suburbs are fundamentally unstable–if they do not change, they will become poorer and poorer (boldface mine):

…the default setting of the suburban development pattern is designed to actively fail over time. Doing nothing is a sure recipe for continued decline….

Each new shiny subdivision, shopping center, and office park built out on the edge of town (often in a different school district or municipality) draws more prosperous and mobile residents along with new revenue from fresh growth. Meanwhile smaller older tract homes, aging strip malls, and even churches lose value as they age. Taxes are generally lower in newly built areas since legacy costs for infrastructure and government employees hasn’t yet accumulated. In contrast, older suburban areas are loaded down with maintenance costs, underfunded pensions, rising health care costs, and declining revenues. The public schools wobble, lower income people migrate to the neighborhood, home owners are replaced by renters with slum lords, and the whole thing goes south pretty fast. People, of course, respond by voting with their feet.

If you want to see the in-between stage of this process check out the 1980’s and 1990’s retail centers. The strip malls are still freshly painted and the landscaping is well maintained, but most of the storefronts are empty. There’s just too much retail space on offer with too few businesses looking to fill it. This isn’t a result of a temporary economic downturn. It’s a feature of never-ending outward expansion….

The typical response by many civic leaders is to encourage new job creation and new retail sales to fill the public coffers. But even when new businesses do open and jobs are created it doesn’t really help the older neighborhoods recover. People looking for good places to raise their children or retire gravitate toward the newer parts of town – or more likely the next town over. People who want urban amenities like street life and culture generally flee the region entirely for a real city….

Any suggestion that these districts could be reinvented with a downtown flavor to give people the option of a walkable urban neighborhood is met with stiff resistance from nearly everyone. It’s just not what people in the area want.

This downward spiral ultimately leads to low-income families–disproportionately non-white families–moving in, unless certain measures are taken (boldface mine):

…as lower income people migrated to the Antelope Valley from other parts of Los Angeles County both cities began an aggressive code enforcement program directed at discouraging poorer people from settling in the area. If you read the local Antelope Valley Times here the mayor of Lancaster, Rex Parris, praised the fraud investigation officials who were wrongly terminated by Los Angeles County bureaucrats. If you read the Los Angeles Times here both Lancaster and Palmdale were systematically raiding the homes of lower income black and latino citizens with SWAT style teams of heavily armed police looking for minor code violations and instances of fraud

The most recent “solution” was for the city of Lancaster to propose shutting down its MetroLink rail station in order to prevent lower income people from traveling in from other parts of Los Angeles County. That approach plays well with suburban voters, but has no real effect on the larger trend.

And then you wind up with a suburb run much like Ferguson, where Blacks and Latinos are constantly harassed by the police (legally and economically), leading to discontent.

A puzzle, it is.

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