Little Boxes, Big Slums

So what happens when McMansions all over the country are downgraded in status and price to the dollar menu? According to an article in The Atlantic, it means we’re witnessing a huge shift in where Americans are choosing to live. The piece, by Brookings Institution fellow/Arcadia Land Company honcho Christopher B. Leinberger, racks up fact after fact to support the theory that the suburbanization of the U.S. has run its course:

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.

Leinberger argues that as cities have increased in cachet over the past decade or so, builders have gone gangbusters on the suburbs, leading to overdevelopment in non-urban areas and huge price premiums in our cities. One demographer he cites forecasts a “likely surplus of 22 million large-lot homes forecasts a likely surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (houses built on a sixth of an acre or more) by 2025—that’s roughly 40 percent of the large-lot homes in existence today.” There are plenty of good reasons to believe cities—and manufactured, urban-esque “lifestyle centers” outside of cities that include walkable streets and retail clusters—will only continue to grow in popularity. For example, Leinberger notes that by 2025 there will be an equal number of single-person households as families with children. The whole article is well worth a read, though it oddly doesn’t address the possible racial ramifications of a suburbia-as-slum/cities-of-gold cultural shift. Still and all, it’s a sobering look at how the McMansion developments of today may be the poverty-stricken badlands of tomorrow.
The Next Slum? [The Atlantic]
Photo by bob.

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  • you know, I really doubt taht the McMansions of today will be tomorrow’s slums. Many families choose to live nearby their schools, places of worship etc. and don’t find the city at all scintillating. But, who knows? Let’s check back in 50 years

  • “racks up fact after fact”

    Actually, there is a dearth of facts in that otherwise interesting article.

  • I don’t like houses that are too big, they don’t feel homely at all.

  • i hate the suburbs.

    that picture makes me cringe.

    and those poor wives sitting in those big empty houses all day wondering what mall to hit next to try to fill her void with lane bryant slacks and oreo bigstuffers.

  • What racial ramifications, Brownstoner? That’s a bit of pushing buttons needlessly. The rural areas and far suburbs becoming “slums” doesn’t mean they’re saying the suburbs won’t be mostly white anymore. There are plenty whites who do not have high income and their numbers are growing as the rural and Middle-American white population values education and science less and less. Plus there is a big drug problem in rural and Middle America among whites.

    I read years ago, well before the bubble, that sociologists were saying rural America was the new ghetto. They were already seeing this coming a good while back.

    It demonstrates just how predatory and awful these suburban developers and mortage banks were. They convinced Americans they weren’t living the American dream unless they lived in a bigass house. Then they gave big loans to people who never should have qualified for any loan much less a large one, to buy these oversized houses. Those developers and mortgage banks should go to prison.

  • 2 of my closest friends have moved over to the suburbs and they continually bitch about the cost of going back and forth to work. I love living in the city. So much to do.

  • I found the article very short on facts/stats. And while I’d very much like to see more of back-to-city movement, it seems more a fancy than truth.
    Author cites a few cities (and maybe the number about a dozen) where prices in inner city are high and in demand….but the real truth is that there are many times more cities in this country that are bleeding big time and crippled by crime, poor schools and depleting job picture.

  • The part where they discuss homes being turned into boarding homes seems realistic. Didn’t this happen in Ditmas Park?

  • An intersting concept, to be sure, but I agree that most of suburbia will not turn into slums. I can see some older subdivisions having an economic downturn, especially as houses that were not built all that well to begin with, start to deteriorate, and owners decide to move rather than repair. But established, and wealthier areas will stay that way. As the poster above noted, not everyone wants to live in cities, and I think many people still see the burbs as a better place to raise kids, so families will always keep these areas going.

    It would be interesting to see, long range, if the cities turn into places for singles, childless couples and empty nesters, and the burbs are populated almost entirely by families and children. Personally, I think there are too many other variables – incomes, home prices, employment, transportation, etc, to make that a viable reality, at least not here on the Eastern Corridor.

  • “but the real truth is that there are many times more cities in this country that are bleeding big time and crippled by crime, poor schools and depleting job picture.”

    What you are failing to see right now though….because it is just beginning, that once this credit thing totally shakes itself out, you are going to see the majority of suburbs across this country filled with people who owe more on these big huge houses than they are worth.

    Many might consider walking away, downsizing and moving to cities, where it seems to be a place where the asset of the home is more stable in price, if not rising.

    These suburban areas are going to suffer from a severe loss of taxes, which will hurt the schools, potentially cause more crime and basically devalue your entire community.

    Imagine living in a suburban area right now let’s say in NJ where every house in your neighborhood is worth 20% less than it was 2 years ago and maybe 1/10th of those people ow more on their homes than they are worth, another 1/3rd would maybe break even if they sold and the rest did ok because they bought before 2001.

    Can you imagine the sortof problems that will arise when people start bolting??

  • These articles and this news does not apply to the near-suburbs of NYC. They are talking about the far-suburbs of NYC and of other cities. Those stupid inexplicable subdivisions you see in the middle of f*ing nowhere that are hours-long commutes to cities. Places where because of the idiotic location people could buy a house way bigger than they’d ever need for a more affordable price.

    Funny how they never think about the REASON a house inside a city costs more! Uh, because it’s always more valuable you morons. If a house is too far away from a city it will not be a good investment, period. People made really bad decisions in both building and buying these monstrosities. And it dragged ALL of us down with them, even we who weren’t so retarded we’d actually invest in a crappy newly built ugly house 2 hours away from any city. Ugh. Let these houses rot, they deserve it and anybody could have seen this coming.

  • The problem of home depreciation in the suburbs hurts much more than it does in a city, because many people moved to the suburbs for one reason and one reason only.

    To get a bigger house.

    While I love my studio, it is my neighborhood and my city that feeds me and keeps me happy.

    In the burbs, it is your 3000 sf, your yard and your pool.

    Once those things become worthless, there is a lot less to keep you happy than there is a cultural thriving city.

  • 11.07 – half the brownstone owners on here seem to be boarding people in their house too in order to pay the mortgage.

  • Agree with 11:05. The cities that will continue suffering are those with only a middling cultural/social base and access to which is not greatly enhanced by being right in the middle of it all. There will always be better access to those things in NYC by people who live there. Hartford? Syracuse? Probably not a big difference (you’re 10 minutes by car, and the parking is free). Don’t forget, these smaller cities have a HUGE obstacle to overcome in terms of overall decay, crime, bad schools, missing urban fabric, lack of any real incentive to move there.

    I would love to know if these researchers took energy prices into consideration. It would seem to me to be a huge consideration in whether or not you choose to live 2, 10, or 50 miles away from where you work; have a house that’s 1,500 SF or 3,000 SF.

    Then again, the US seems to have an unending appetite for energy consumption, no matter what its price.

  • There’s an ecological consideration too. The developers bought up beautiful longtime family farms to build these horrible things. Like what happened in New Jersey. Now these subdivisions scar the landscape and are ecologically damaging. Bad bad bad. Sure, the farmers made money selling their large parcels of land to developers but it’s just sad. I used to love taking a roadtrip and passing farms all the way. Now you only see hideous subdivisions with billboards trying to convince you it’s the good life to live there. If I ever bought that far out it would be to buy a farm, thank you very much. I’d rather live with critters not suburbanites.

  • “Then again, the US seems to have an unending appetite for energy consumption, no matter what its price.”

    I think it’s more of a tipping point that we are starting to come close to.

    Americans simply will not be able to afford $5 gas. $6 gas. We are teetering on the brink of something significant needing to take place in the way we live our lives.

    I’m actually thinking that the housing bust could be a major chance for the United States to FINALLY make some sort of societal evolution that might bring us into a society less obsessed with posessions and credit.

    It could happen.

    I envy places like Demark and Finland and Germany in some respects and Sweden. This countries are so far ahead of the U.S. in terms of quality of life, energy efficiency, urban living, healthcare.

    It’s time we step out ahead instead of coasting.

    This country is in a sad state, in my opinion. Americans need to start saving some pennies, they need to stop buying every god damn thing from walmart and they need to cut back on the mcdonalds.

    How about a little quality over quantity, eh?

  • 11:17 – as you know (or should), many brownstones/townhouses were designed as 2 units, either to explicitly support a main family with a rental unit, or as a staff unit. I wouldn’t call these “boarders” or “boarding houses.” The houses are perfectly suited to a tenant who can help pay the mortgage, not something the owner is doing out of desperation. In any event, the boarding house conversions were not people seeking help for the mortgage but houses that were no longer desirable as single/two-family at all, and got sold to landlords who parceled them out room by room.

  • 11.30 – splitting hairs.

    (other people’s hairs at that ….guerghhh)

  • as a staff unit yes, not to support a main family with a rental unit. please.

  • the same person keeps ruining threads by saying she thinks its gross to have a rental unit and finds it declasse to live with others.

    i wonder if she’s telling her 15 cats the same thing.

  • I doubt the NYC suburbs (North Jersey, Westchester County, and that southern part of CT) are included in this.

    They’re generally well-laid out and planned towns that are 100-300 years old, good access to public transportation, with some of the best public schools in the nation. and those schools are free.

    Plus, the architecture is about as old and beautiful as Park Slope in the better towns, or as ugly as Williamsburg in the other ones.

    As in, I doubt Upper Montclair or Rutherford will be next year’s slum any time soon. Now that crime’s starting to really become an issue in Brooklyn again, maybe the suburbs of NYC are going to have growth potential? People are seriously getting their heads bashed.

    (no, I’m not a broker, property owner, or anyone else with interest in the suburbs. I currently live in Broklyn).

  • The near-in suburbs (like mine, which is one mile from the train station and 30 minutes from Grand Central) will do just fine. It appeals to those who cannot afford to or choose not to raise their kids in the city (Brownstone Brooklyn is certinaly unaffordable for most), and those who realize that driving 100 miles a day @ $4.00 a gallon while they are paying $4.00 a gallon to heat their 4,000+-square-foot behemouth McMansion is foolish.

  • 11.43 – ruining your little-bubble world you mean?

  • this is, not 11.43.

  • I don’t think they are talking about the close-in suburbs of nyc either, 11:45. But the farther out suburbs will affect the inner ones, which will then affect the cities. If people no longer want to live an hour or two hours from the city, they have to go somewhere. This article is not saying every human will live in new york city.

    If these people gravitate towards cities, there will be more people going after less property.

    Good for anyone living in a city.

    As the article states, New York City, if it were a state would be the “greenest” state in the country.

    That’s something to be proud of.

  • someone needs to start

  • I’d love a brownstone if they had decent-sized gardens like the Victorian homes in London. But they don’t, they have cramped “yards” unfortunately.

    You can still find some decent old (wood) houses in a few suburbs though.

  • “Those developers and mortgage banks should go to prison.”

    There you go! With some well placed barbed wire fence and guard towers, those McMansion “communities” could become the prisons to house all those charlatans. Done and DONE.

  • True, 11:45 and and 11:46 it’s what I said in my post at 11:15 too, but less eloquently! Ha. The cool towns in the near-suburbs of NYC on the Hudson and in CT are so vastly different from those far-suburbs subdivisions way out in Jersey. It’s just night and day.

    Just to point it out, I’m not a suburbs booster, we own and live in Brooklyn and are enthused city-dwellers and fully committed to staying and riding out whatever comes. Loving the city life.

  • I read this article, and it makes some strong arguments.

    and i was surprised that it didn’t cite actual examples of this sort of thing, because ithese problems have occurred before in commuter cities like palmdale and lancaster, in southern california.

    in the mid and late 90’s there were squatters there, the properties had lost lots of value after the 94 quake, really bad crime, meth labs, not a good scene. people were upside down on mortgages and basically walked away…

    likely won’t happen super close to NYC but it’s possible farther out on long island and in some upstate areas…

  • OMG that’s a hilarious image, 11:57.

    But turning those subdivisions into white-collar prisons may be a good idea. Seriously.

  • 11:59 here again. I meant to say much older examples.

    they do make a case by giving current subdivisions where this phenomenon is happening, but only recently.

  • I was visiting a friend in Phoenix last month and it’s SCARY there.

    The subdivision they lived in…I’d say 1/4th of the homes never sold and another 1/4th are in foreclosure with maybe 1 in 10 homes boarded up.

    This was a place that two years ago was perfectly lovely in that god awful suburban way.

    Now it’s a ghost town and no one knows what to do or where to go.

  • I doubt the suburbs within a 30-40 mile radius of NYC will experience a downturn. As in, the entire metro area.

    1) They’re directly tied to NYC’s prosperity and people who work in NYC will often choose consciously to live in the ‘burbs 2) NJ is the wealthiest state in the US and also has some of the lowest unemployment and one of the most diverse “21st century” economies in the world and 3) Connecticut and parts of Upstate NY are getting big chunks of the NYC economy that are being outsourced due to costs (a lot of creative and media work are being sent to those states).

    Plus, the suburbs have 0 crime rates, great free schools, housing that can be as old and beautiful as the nicest neighborhoods in Brooklyn, plus easier commutes to Manhattan, etc. etc. For people who moved to NYC from the Midwest or whatever, there’s a lot out there you’d only know if you’re actually from here.

    So, while I’m sure Brownstoner meant to imply the suburbs of New York in this post, they’re completely irrelevant to what this article is discussing.

  • agree that phoenix is scary, and always has been, imo.

    the west in general is kinda sucking it right now, especially certain parts of ca, nevada and nm.

    we’re lucky to live in nyc.

  • The West is headed for a terrible drought. It’s already started. I love the West, had family in NM, and it’s so sad but people there need to get out now. Mainly because they need to reduce the population so the insane water consumption can stop.

  • “I doubt the suburbs within a 30-40 mile radius of NYC will experience a downturn.”

    The close in suburbs of NYC have ALREADY seen home prices slide by as much as 20%. They will continue to fall for another year or possibly two.

    Lots of those people left recently for the burbs and will now owe more than their house is worth. I think that’s a problem.

  • This article is actually a few weeks old – it makes some valid points but I think it is way overstated if people believe that all or most ‘suburbs’ will become slums. Many suburbs have a lot going for them and will thrive. Even in Europe, suburbanization is continuing and even growing.

    That being said there is certainly alot of things that point to urban living as being more popular in the future. ie. Energy costs, environmental factors, mass transit etc….

    Yet I wonder how the apparently anti-development (at least anti-density) folks who seem to congregate here expect that we will be able to deal with the increased population that will inevitably be staying and moving to the city if these trends hold up.

  • “NJ is the wealthiest state in the US”

    New Jersey dropped to number 3 last year.

    Maryland is number 1.

    Connecticut is number 2.

    New Jersey is at the moment, bankrupt.

  • “Even in Europe, suburbanization is continuing and even growing.”

    That statement is 100% false.

  • I totally agree with 12:13, this has zero relevance for “metropolitan” NY. The article is about ex-urban communities out in corn fields hours away from anything.

    Also, almost all burbs have extremely stringent zoning that forbibs multiple family dwellins. The author’s stateement that MCmansions will become rental units is absurd.

  • Sorry…I had it wrong. NJ is number 2. But it’s still bankrupt. Taxes are insanity.

    NEW YORK ( — Maryland is now the wealthiest state in the union, as measured by median household income, according to the latest stats from the Census Bureau.

    The typical Maryland household earned $65,144 in 2006, propelling it past New Jersey, which came in second with earnings of $64,470, but had led the nation in 2005. Connecticut finished in third place both years, recording a median income of $63,422 in 2006.

  • 12:13, nobody has once said here the near-suburbs to NYC are the types being discussed in this article. You REALLY need to read all the thread before commenting. Did you even bother to do that?

    But the suburbs do NOT have “0 crime rates”.

    We read the news and watch TV too. Who are you trying to fool? The worst crime I ever heard of in my life, the rape and murders of the mother and daughters during a home invasion robbery, took place a year or so ago in one of the nicest CT suburban towns. The suburbs are not immune.

  • “suburbia-as-slum/cities-of-gold cultural shift”

    No worse than the opposite, which developed after WW II.

  • suburban = sub-urban.

    The burbs can suck it.

  • 12:13 gets the award for dumbest post of the day. In NJ and Maryland a people in a few communities make a huge amount of money and everyone else is struggling. Such an economy is like a 3rd world country. Plus Maryland has Baltimore and NJ has Newark. ‘Nuff said. A couple of the notoriously worst cities in the country. Not exactly something to be proud of economically or otherwise.

  • You forgot Camden, 12:34.

  • useless info, 12:49.

    they are trying to fight suburban sprawl in europe and you want to defend ours.

    so typical of an american.

    bigger is ALWAYS better, right??

  • This may be off-the-wall, but I recall reading years ago that the L.I. suburbs were likely to have serious long-term water supply problems (since they rely on aquifers that are becoming increasingly polluted and are inadequately renewed). Instead of becoming slums, I wonder if their eventual fate will simply be to be abandonment?

  • “suburbs have already experienced 20% drops”

    so has/will brooklyn

    “people underwater in the suburbs will walk away b/c houses in the city are more attractive”

    and where are they going to get mortgages and down payments when they just fried all their equity and just became subprime?

    there is always that one broker on here who tries to pump today’s prices with this theory. problem with that logic is, how are people in the suburbs with less valuable (and always decreasing) homes going to sell and buy the “red hot” priced homes in brooklyn when the current, and presumably better paid, residents can’t even afford it?

  • What is with the constant idea people on this blog put forth that people only move to the suburbs because they think “bigger is better?” That is why I moved to Brooklyn! That is why most people to move to Brooklyn–to get a bigger house! I had a very nice apartment in a great area in Manhattan but I moved here to get a 3,800 square foot brownstone. That is bigger than the average house in the suburbs–I looked in many burbs and most houses I could afford where about 2,500 square feet. So, you could just as easily say that the popularity of brownstones is because so many people think that bigger is better.

  • Prices in many cities across the country have decreased far more than they have in NYC suburbs. As long as prices here remain stable, there will be people moving to the burbs.

  • Moving to get more space in an URBAN community likie Brooklyn, 1:08, is not the same as looking to get a larger space in a community which chops down every tree and suffocates acre after acre of land to build such monstrosities.

    Come on now. You know this.

  • 12:54 – what are you talking about, stop trying to be a troll.

    Europe and the U.S. have sprawl(suburbanization) problems – and in both places there are different constituencies on both sides of the issue. but the point is that even in Europe suburbanization is a ‘force’ to contend with and it is simply naive to beleive that surburban living is simply going to disappear; or just turn into slums.

    The large question is if the trend is more toward urban living, then how are we as a city going to deal with the increased density that is NECESSARY. The ordinary brownstoner seems to respond = downzone, which actually to me seems like a recipe for more sprawl, higher costs and less economically diverse communities.

  • Your right 1:13 – it isnt the “same” but it is just a less egregious version of the same thing. The issue is where/how do you strike that balance.

  • No, 1:13, I don’t really see the difference. We decided that we “needed” more space so we looked all over for it. The homes we looked at in the suburbs were almost all older (and gorgeous) because that is what we like, but our number one priority was lots of space. We ended up finding it in a brownstone, but we could just as easily found it in a farmhouse or victorian in the suburbs. What’s the difference?

    The only meaningful distinction is between those who want space and care about the quality of it–and therefore buy an old farmhouse, tudor, or victorian in the suburbs or a brownstone in Brooklyn–and those who don’t care about the quaility of the space and therefore buy a McMansion in the suburbs or a new construction condo in the city.

  • We forget that suburbanites are moving into rural areas as well. And in effect, the ruralites are moving even further into the woods.

  • the suburbs are a mess right now.

    plain and simple.

    in this upcoming recession, at least here in nyc, we can go hit the museums for free, hang out in some of the most beautiful parks in the u.s., explore new neighborhoods for cheap eats.

    in the burbs, you are stuck with huge prices to drive anywhere and just have to sit and stew in the fact that you moved there for your big house, which is now worth less than you “paid” for it.

    and that is not fun.

  • Oh please 1:40, just because YOU (and I) hate the suburbs doesn’t make them a mess.

    On a related note, 98% of the population (urban, suburban or rural) doesn’t care about museums, and won’t pay a premium to be able to get in free on night a week.

  • It sucks having a large house in the burbs with a million in equity that you cant touch.

    maybe they should rent out the pools out during the summer?

  • After living in Brooklyn for 30 years, I am thinking about moving to upstate NY, Columbia County. It feels like country up there, not suburbia, and I like old houses. I work from home in Brooklyn, I can work from home up there. As a baby boomer who grew up on Long Island, I can’t imagine the village I grew up in, established in 1834, becoming a slum. But it is an interesting article.

  • That is one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever read. It can easily be denounced by it’s own wording. It compares what happened in the past to a completely different scenario and predicts the future to an empty theory. HA!

  • The negativity and air of superiority on this site baffles me. I happen to own a two-family brownstone and can still understand and sometimes even fleetingly consider myself the move to the suburbs. People secure in their choices and place in life do not have to keep pointing out their superiority and reminding themselves and everyone else how much better they, their homes and their neighborhoods are. Makes you wonder about the mentality of some who frequent this website. Insecure to say the least. Oh yeah even though I own a brownstone in fabulous Brooklyn, I’m not beyond worrying about the value of my home in this economy. I guess some of you are just plain ignorant, in major denial or extremely privileged. If you truly thought you were so much better off you wouldn’t have to keep reminding yourself.

  • The ‘extra’ expense of driving is trivial when you consider the current differences in housing prices between non-slum urban areas and the majority of suburbs.

    This is why if people are truly serious about sprawl they will advocate for 1. Much higher taxes on gasoline 2. Congestion pricing for areas well served by mass transit (and continued mass transit investment) and 3 higher density in those same well served areas.

  • funstraw 1:50 – what statement are you referring to?

  • “The ‘extra’ expense of driving is trivial when you consider the current differences in housing prices between non-slum urban areas and the majority of suburbs.”

    It’s not just a couple bucks here and there for gas though. It’s a couple hundred more bucks every year to heat your huge, wasteful home, it’s less vacations, which lead to more people unhappy at work, it’s more a feeling of isolation which also contibutes to a lonely life. Every single person I know in the suburbs tells me how isolated they feel…especially because of the advent of the computer age, which just isolates people even more. At least here, I can see other human beings on the subway or walking around near my house.

    The suburbs are simply not how human beings were meant to live.

    We are more predestined to live in colony like settings. Much more similar to that of a city.

  • Wow, suburb haters huh? Just cause it’s not your choice it’s awful?

    The NYC ‘burbs are a different place, and I suspect some of the ‘burbs of some other similar cities, like Chicago, for instance, will have the same fate. And I think it’s because of our public transport system. Most NYC commuters take public transportation into the city to work. They don’t drive. And many of those in the ‘burbs utilize their proximity to the city to go in on the weekends and expose their children to the city, so they’re hardly hours away from culture. After all, I don’t know how many of you have been to certain suburbs, but many of them are more city-like by the day – boutique stores, health food stores, coffee houses, museums, art house movie theaters – plus the added proximity to big box stores, parks, pools, beaches and great schools. They’re not as awful as you imagine. Of course, those tend to be the somewhat pricier places to live, but that’s how it is.

    Plus, let’s face it – build all you want, but NYC will reach a saturation point where it will become unpleasant to live in should EVERYONE decide to move there. NYC’s land size alone, even including the boroughs, will help keep the suburbs a viable option for people.

  • 11:07,

    Only a few of the homes in the Ditmas Park area were converted into boarding homes. This phenomenon was more prevalent in the now trendy and popular brownstone neighborhoods like Park Slope, Ft. Greene, Bed-Stuy, etc… It just goes to show that any area can be improved and also that any area can becaome a slum. I have seen suburban “slums” start to crop up in Nevada where many homes witihn some developments are in foreclosure and others were never sold by the developers. Suburban developments that are built to mimic city living seem to do a lot better.

  • Here is an example of what a smart person does with the economic news and what a not so smart person does with it.

    1. The not so smart person whines and cries on an anonymous blog about how bad the economy is and how the world is coming to an end and that all homeowners are stupid.

    2. A smart person buys stock of Bear Stearns for $2 on Monday morning and sells on Tuesday afternoon for $6.80 (it’s current price).

    I’m so glad I’m in category number 2.

  • “I have seen suburban “slums” start to crop up in Nevada where many homes witihn some developments are in foreclosure and others were never sold by the developers. Suburban developments that are built to mimic city living seem to do a lot better.”

    I’ve seen them starting to crop up in places as close as southern New Jersey. Not pretty.
    Also seen a bit of this starting to happen on parts of Long Island.

  • 1:59 – yes it costs more to heat the average suburban home – but they also tend to have lower utility costs (per khw/hr). But again even if you add up the driving/auto expense and the heat expense and the higher taxes, it is simply a fact that an ‘middle to upper middle-class’ existence (as that appears to be currently defined within our society) is significantly cheaper to maintain in the suburbs (especially if you factor in schools)

    Now you can claim that a “middle-upper middle class lifestyle’ (as it is currently defined) is not sustainable for 300M people (much less 6B worldwide) and that we should re-define our desires/expectations and you have a point. However – right now – in the world we are living, you are not going to get people to move to the city based upon a cost based argument (hence my reason for saying you should be working to raise the costs through gas taxes and congestion pricing and to lower urban costs by increased density).

    I do find it interesting that 2 generations ago people were making the same argument against Urban living – i.e. that people were not ment to live in such density. I think it is clear that people choose and desire to live in all different types of arrangements – you sociological conclusions notwithstanding

  • Speaking of Ditmas Park – how come there isnt a huge push by all you anti-suburban brownstoners to demolish those suburban victorians and replace them with ‘proper’ rowhouses??

  • I agree with you 2:18. I really do. I think we are splitting hairs.

    I think that the primary reason people left cities 2 generations ago was because the country was reeling from the civil rights movement and many white people simply did not want to live in close proximity to black people.

    Those times are a changin, that goodness.

    If we end up with an African American President, we’ll see that continue even more.

    As white become become less fearful of black, the cities will continue to flourish, I believe.

  • New construction is incredibly energy efficient. You spend less to heat a large, well insulated suburban house than an old, drafty brownstone.

    Brooklyn is a suburb of Manhattan, but some Brooklynites can’t bring themselves to admit it.

    I have no interest in moving to the suburbs, but the constant need on this board to trash other people’s lifestyles, neighborhood choices, etc. is pretty damn remarkable. Insecure much?

  • “Brooklyn is a suburb of Manhattan”

    Brooklyn would be the 4th largest city in the country. So by definition you are saying Seattle, San Francisco, Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, Boston, San Diego, Phoenix, Detroit, Baltimore, Washington and Miami are all suburbs…

    You’re not really that dumb are you?

  • “New construction is incredibly energy efficient.”

    You will find out in 10-20 years that this energy efficiency is causing indoor air quality to be more deadly than outdoor air quality, which includes pollution, smog, co2, etc.

    Another example of your incredible ignorance.

  • Well cities like Houston and Phoenix are actually built to a density that is more akin to NYC’s near suburbs then in a dense manner and much of Southern Brooklyn is decidedly suburban sprawl.

  • That’s not the point, 2:38.

    At all.

    Calling Brooklyn a suburb is asinine.

  • Brooklyn serves primarily as a bedroom community for Manhattan. What little economic activity it has is almost totally to serve local residents.

    Size doesn’t make a suburb. Economic and cultural relationship to the urban center is what matters.

  • Brilliant 2:35 – so what are you advocating – energy inefficient housing???
    We get it – you like Brownstones better, but everyone isnt going to be able to live in a 150yr old structure.

    So short of condemning everyone who doesnt live in a Brownstone, what do you propose to deal with the problems of sprawl and pollution?

  • 2:45…

    The reason Brooklyn has become so attractive to so many people is because its economic and cultural relationship to Manhattan lessens with each passing year. More and more people I know who move to Brooklyn say they have NO reason to go to Manhattan and wish they worked in Brooklyn because it has everything they need. I feel the same.

    Brooklyn is a wonderful city, and would be a wonderful city, if Manhattan were not so close. It would, in my opinion, be one of the top 10 cities in the U.S. if Manhattan did not exist.

  • if brooklyn is a suburb what does that make new jersey????!

    i guess i don’t want to know.

    sounds pretty bad.

  • One major problem — where will all these poor people come from? The ranks of the poor have been dwindling for decades. The suburbs will not be abandoned to decay, they will just be even cheaper than they are now.

  • what happens when all this shoddily built mcmansions start crumbling in 10 years?

    then what?

    those buildings weren’t even built to last 50 years.

    that will be the ultimate bubble bursting when all these homes fall apart in a few years.

  • Some of these houses that were built 2-3 years ago already are suffering from foundation problems, cracking concrete, buckling floors, peeling paint, mold, etc.

    That is the problem when you are trying to build something so fast so you can make a crazy profit.

    Not only will homeowners have to spend more to repair these new homes (money they don’t have) but the developers are now taking a loss on unsold homes sitting there rotting.

    Another reason why quality is something more Americans should start to value.

    A little craftsmanship goes a long way.

  • I knew to buy a brownstone ever since 3 little pigs. there’s a lot of truth in children stories.

  • “If Brooklyn is a suburb what does that make New Jersey?”

    Hoboken and Jersey City are suburbs much like brownstone Brooklyn. Maplewood and West Orange are suburbs much like Midwood or Dyker Heights.

    Both Brooklyn and Jersey offer a variety of suburban flavors.

  • You are a true idiot, 3:36. You need to read the definition between city and suburb.

    Or just read, period.

  • all of brooklyn is a suburb?

    even downtown?

    how odd.

  • I used to think that life was easy but then I got placed on probation and had to pee in a cup. Now I look back on those halcyon days and wish that I could taste one of those salty pretzels.

  • Has anyone mention the TAXES in Westchester, they are really high. I have a friend who is paying just over $9,000 a year and they are not in a McMansion.

    So to think they will be come the slums with those types of taxes.

    I doubt it!!

  • you chicken littles are amusing – the avearge “mcmansion” or recent condo will last 100s of years. Some are shoddy and will need more work than others but modern construction builds strong and long lasting buildings.

    Please name a recent example of anything built in the last 20 years suffering from a catastrophic and unexpected failure?

  • better yet u show us a mcmansion that’s more than 100 yrs old.

  • “Please name a recent example of anything built in the last 20 years suffering from a catastrophic and unexpected failure?”

    Phoenix, Arizona

  • better yet u show us a mcmansion that’s more than 100 yrs old.

    100+ year old mcmansions are the brownstones, limestones and victorians that are found all over Brooklyn

    and sorry but Phoenix isnt a response – we are talking about building failure not market failure. Surely if modern construction was so poor and crappy you must have tons of structural failures to point to as example.

  • Go look at the Department of Buildings violations, 4:40. You will find hundreds of thousands of examples.

  • “100+ year old mcmansions are the brownstones, limestones and victorians that are found all over Brooklyn”

    Is that really what they are, moron?

    McMansion is a pejorative architectural term which first came into use in the United States during the 1980s as a description of a particular style of housing that is constructed in an assembly line fashion reminiscent of food production at McDonald’s fast food restaurants. So-called “McMansions” often have a large footprint, cookie-cutter designs, similar architectural styles, and are often located in a newer, larger subdivision or replace existing, smaller structure in older neighborhoods. A McMansion is generally considered a house between 2,200 and 3,500 square feet in size in homogeneous communities that are often produced by a developer. Although they are generally large homes, they are mass produced and are not of the caliber of a mansion.

  • 2:14 has posted that remark on every thread today (bought BS shares at 2 and sold them for 6.80) – what is her motive????? is she a bear sterns employee trying to boost the stock prices by getting everyone to buy shares?? mysterious.

  • how do you know it’s a she, 4:49? are men not allowed to have boyfriends?

    homophobes are gay.

  • Hey thanks 4:47 i never knew the term was that old.

  • You are a true idiot, 3:36. You need to read the definition between city and suburb.

    Or just read, period.

    Posted by: guest at March 18, 2008 3:39 PM

    New Jersey is technically an all-urban state. All the counties in New Jersey are rated by the census bureau as being as urban as, say, Kings County. So, technically, there is no difference.

    Northeast New Jersey developed the same way Brooklyn did, and if you’ve ever traveled the metro area, you’d see that basically everything. looks. the. same. Manhattan is the exception. There are tons of places that look like Park Slope or Williamsburg all over the region.

  • 5:11….I noticed you didn’t extrapolate the sentence in Wikipedia just before the part about all of NJ’s counties being “urban”

    “Newark and Camden are two of the poorest cities in America, but New Jersey as a whole has the second highest median household income among the states.[22] This is largely because so much of New Jersey consists of suburbs, most of them affluent, of New York City and Philadelphia.”

    Notice that word suburb in there.

  • They’re suburbs, but they developed in the same way Brooklyn did, and they basically look identical. If you incorporated all the towns in Northeast NJ, it’d probably have the same population and land area as Brooklyn.

    NJ is unique in that it actively cuts up its towns and cities into smaller municipalities … what would be big cities are 20 separate towns that fight against each other. Yet they all flow into each other and have neighborhoods with brownstones, ugly Tudors, huge parks, vinyl siding houses, towns made up exclusively of 19th century Victorian housing, all within a 20-30 minute train ride to Manhattan.

    If you don’t know this stuff, you’re probably from Ohio my friend.

    I mean, c’mon.

  • Yes Brownstones were definitely the McMansions of their day. Built for the same demographic, with the same motivation and aspirations:

    How does this not describe a Brownstone (at the time they were built?):

    So-called “McMansions” often have a large footprint, cookie-cutter designs, similar architectural styles, and are often located in a newer, larger subdivision or replace existing, smaller structure in older neighborhoods. A McMansion is generally considered a house between 2,200 and 3,500 square feet in size in homogeneous communities that are often produced by a developer

    As for the quality – I assume that since you can only point to DOB violations (which essentially indicate nothing and are on both old and new construction) I assume you concede that their has not been any significant structural failings due to modern construction techniques.

  • … oh yeah, and people actually from here do consider Brooklyn the “suburbs” (Manhattan is “the city”). My old friend from Bensonhurst used to put it that way. “I want to live in the friggin city, I’m not moving back here[Brooklyn]”.

    THe people who fetishize Brooklyn as this super unique thing are way not from these parts.

  • I overheard coworkers who live in the suburbs in Westchester talking about going to “all the new restaurants in the city.” I asked them which ones and it turned out that they were talking about White Plains! They said that they used to come to Manhattan on weekends but now there are great restaurants all over and Itzack Perlman took over the westchester philharmonic and there are more regional theaters and art film theaters so they usually just stay in Westchester.

    The point is that as mini-cities like White Plains, Yonkers, and Stamford have become more desirable and have gotten more amenities, the suburbs are closer to all of those things that used to only be in the city. Which makes them appealing to people who would not have been interested in the burbs years ago.

  • born and raised in brooklyn, my friend.

  • Brownstones were CRAFTED by the woodworkers, plasterers and fascade artists of the day.

    Not quite the same as a McMansion. There are no craftsman on the job of a McMansion development.

  • “Itzack Perlman took over the westchester philharmonic”

    Speaking as someone who works in the office of Itzak’s manager, I would not brag about that. And your info is off.

    He is there because they are paying him a large sum to be there and advise. NOT take over. Paul Lustig Dunkel is the Music Director of the Westchester Philharmonic. Know him? Want to brag that he lives in “the city?”

    There are community orchestras in Queens with a higher caliber of playing than the Westchester Philharmonic.

    And Itzak lives in “the real city” not in White Plains.

  • “I overheard coworkers who live in the suburbs in Westchester talking about going to “all the new restaurants in the city.” ”

    Yeah, I did hear Cheesecake Factory makes a mean lasagna.

  • does any one know the age the brownstones in europe?

  • Interestingly enough, the two times I’ve heard the Westchester Philharmonic, there were about 400 people in the audience and rarely have I ever been to the New York Philharmonic when it isn’t sold out (I go about 10-15 times a year).

    Guess people in the burbs don’t like the classical music too much.

    Unless you can bring snacks, they aren’t into it.

  • does anyone know the language or dialect 5:44 speaks with?

  • Every summer my husband and I go to the outdoor musical concerts in Wetchester. There are a number of series–the one in Sommers and the one at Caramoor in Katonah are my favorites. The musicians are superb and the music is excellent. And they are always sold out. We also go to the Shakespeare festivals in Westchester. It is a great way to get out of the city on a summer weekend. You should try it.

  • Brownstones were “crafted” using the cheapest methods available to create a ‘luxury’ product for the upper-middle and merchant classes – exactly the same as McMansions today. (except without maintenance, a Mcmansion with a pitched roof will outlast a flat-roofed brownstone any century – Flat roofs=leaks)

    And just like the rich gilded class laughed at the “then” crappy immigrant built Brownstone construction and today you laugh at the McMansion – the luxury pre-fab manufactured unit owner of the future will have to hear how the cira 2005 McMansion was crafted lovingly with hand-nailed studs, and shingles and hand installed moldings and individually layed tiles.

    Time marches on..try to accept it.

  • Don’t you people read the restaurant reviews online? White Plains has a slew of 4 star restaurants now. Try reading the NY Times instead of getting all your information from Brownstoner.

  • 5:41, interesting info on Itzak I guess, but try not to be such a total jerk. My point remains the same. The little cities in the burbs are getting full of good interesting restaurants and theaters, which makes the burbs more vital. Why are you all so threatened by the idea that there might be a decent restaurant somewhere other than Smith street?

  • Without Manhattan, homes in Brooklyn would be cheap as Baltimore.

  • hey homez- I guess the BK bridge is coming down too Esse. I hear the same vato immigrants built that as well.

  • Point well taken early in this discussion: Many of the big houses in Flatbush (ours included) were indeed broken up into boarding houses to survive the Depression, after having been built as something akin to the McMansions of their day (although builders and architects took a lot more pride in their product back then. We bought a 3,000-square-foot ex-boarding-house because we couldn’t afford a smaller, more energy-efficient house in better condition. (As Jacob Marley said, “I forged this chain, link by link.”) I’ve always thought that, in the event of an apocalyptic economic catastrophe, we could go back to “renting out rooms”…something that it’s very funny to contemplate McMansioners doing.

  • I am one of those that moved to suburbs and now have returned to brooklyn. Let me tell you the suburbs are depressing. All i did was think about returning to NYC.

  • manhattan is a rich slum. baltimore is a black slum. phoenix is a sunbelt slum. philly is a working class slum. san francisco is a gay slum. camden is a drug slum. eugene is an anarchist slum. albany is a slum of government abuse. gary is a steel town slum.

  • I would post something with more detail, but I have to run to my commuter train. If I miss it I have to wait another hour and it will be local.

    sub-urbs are fun!

  • My family of four is very lucky to occupy about 1800 square feet. I couldn’t imagine what we would do with more space than this. We rent the rest of our house to tenants because it makes sense and we just don’t need or want the whole thing.

    The McMansion trend started in the mid to late nineties and was largely status driven. IMHO, unless you have a family of 8+ and/or entertain family and business associates consistently, it seems like a huge burden. The trend was nurtured through collusion among marketers, developers banks and brokers. They created demand through easy credit because they knew that they could rid themselves of the risk through securities offerings. The ones without foresight or who were too drunk with greed were stuck holding the joker card (BS). These activities were very prolonged (the outstanding value of this debt is unbelievable) and it is not only mortgages. know. The societal cost will be signficant. Many will never make up what was lost. Even “nicer” near to NYC suburbs have been exploited. Quaint towns in NJ and Westchester have their share of the sub-standard housing where maybe 50% of the buyers were qualified but the others will drag everyone else down and not their fault entirely. The services and quality of life are diluted and this is irreparable in the near term. Predatory lending rules were on the books way before last Summer. The Fed and the securities regulators turned a blind eye. This is just SAD and disheartening that the very people that are supposed to protect the public were so blatantly negligent. Who cares if you like Brooklyn or Katanoh or Croton – this is the real issue.

  • My family of three lives in a huge 4 story brownstone and I couldn’t imagine doing with any less. The kid has a floor to himself and my wife and I have our floor. Plus two floors for us to share. It’s perfect.

  • i have a 4 story brownstone all to myself.

    i need it all…i have a large porn collection.

  • i bought an old shoe factory and converted it into a one family that sits vacant.

  • I have a 25 X 125 five story brownstone with CAC and HVAC. My poodles live there while I travel on business extensively. The simpleton down the block feeds them daily.

  • What i can’t figure out is the person at 11:45 who says crime is becoming an issue in brooklyn. Having been a Law enforcement officer in Brooklyn i never seen Crime this low ever! also more and more of those that commited crimes in the past have moved out of NYC. Guess where they moved (suburbia) why? Cheaper housing

  • I have a triplex that contains a private dog-run. I make an all-cash income from the dog-owners in the neighborhood. I, too, have a massive porn collection.

  • “rarely have I ever been to the New York Philharmonic when it isn’t sold out (I go about 10-15 times a year).”

    People from suburbs like Brooklyn and Westchester frequently come into Manhattan to consume culture, as well as to earn a paycheck.

  • People from suburbs like Brooklyn and Westchester frequently come into Manhattan to consume culture, as well as to earn a paycheck.

    i live in manhattan.

  • Some of my relatives and friends bought those macmansions. They aren’t in danger of foreclosing except maybe one of them. When they were buying I thought it was crazy they were buying 4000-5000 SF for a family of three. They talk about entertaining when they buy the place but they never do except the first 6 months of buying the place.

    Now when I see them, big part of the conversation is how expensive it is to heat their homes and how hard it is to clean their place. When you visit them it’s so cold you have to leave your jacket on. Why the hell would you live like that?

    When we bought our 1000SF apartment back in 2001,all of my suburban friends and family laughed to our faces. They said we were stupid to pay half a million on an old dump. Our place is worth much more than theirs now.

  • Two words: Great Room. The room de jour in any McMansion. Two or more stories of soaring space that makes even the largest furniture look small and puny, needs scaffolding to clean the windows or change a lightbulb, and costs the GNP of a small country to heat.

    Great for faux painters, interior decorators and scaffold rentals. Useless for anyone else. Someday, historians will look back and wonder how large these families were, and ask why everyone had to be King and Queen of an actual castle. Amazing waste.


  • 6.02 – as an alien from a country where all houses have pitched roofs, including the victorian era ones, can you enlighten me as to why flat roofs were so popular in NYC where it rains plenty?

  • Preservationista;

    Now here is something we can agree about! Your e-mail is dead on. Nothing like going to visit the “Lords of the Manor House”, and watch your nose turn blue because they can’t afford to heat the place.


  • Highrises have flat roofs. What’s the big deal? Maybe the brainiacs from yesteryear firgured out a slight pitch and drain works fine and plus with a flat roof you can add a roof deck and enjoy the view.

  • the special beauty of the mcmansions is that while you may be the lord and lordess of your manor, your subjects are literally FEET from your windows.

    often within shouting distance to your window. better to keep an eye on them to make sure they are sticking to their diet of doritos and diet coke!

  • “diet of doritos and diet coke!” so true lol

  • Are you people talking about McMansions of about suburbs? Seems like you’re combining the two topics.

    Personally, I despise McMansions. I have no problem with the size, but I hate the way the developers flatten the terrain and plop the houses down. My cousin has a 70’s contemporary in the far burbs that is nesteled into a rocky hill in the woods and it is the sweetest house I’ve ever been in! You feel completely connected to the woods and the rocks. It was build by a developer, but back then they had some respect for the land.

    As for the suburbs, I’d love to have a nice old house with a few acres. People talk about ‘isolation’ but to me that is privacy. It is unnatural to live in a fishbowl with people all around you. Everyone needs some personal space. That’s another problem with McMansions–they’re on top of each other.

  • “It is unnatural to live in a fishbowl with people all around you.”

    Actually human beings were meant to live close to together in colonies. Similar to modern day cities.

    Not isolated with just their family unit as in the burbs.

  • “It is unnatural to live in a fishbowl with people all around you.”

    Actually human beings were meant to live close to together in colonies. Similar to modern day cities.

    Not isolated with just their family unit as in the burbs.

  • Leinberger hates the suburbs and desperately wishes they go away. And there we have it: erroneous over-generalizations driven by bigotry. Nothing new, really.

    The reality is much sadder. New York City’s population would’ve fallen if not for immigration: native-born Americans continue to abandon the city. White flight still technically continues, although for all practical purposes it has nearly stopped: NYC’s white population declined only by several thousand in 2000-2006 (as opposed to the losses of close to a million a decade between 1950’s and 1990’s). Black flight has become a new reality. New York is becoming less black and white, more Hispanic and Asian.

    New York City added 85 thousand people, NYC’s suburbs added almost 280 thousand between 2000-2006. Almost all new office space being built in this country today is built in suburban office parks. Several new skyscrapers in New York do not really measure up.

    It is not the McMansion-dominated parts of suburbia that are becoming slummified. Quite the opposite: it’s the old, dense, 1950’s suburbs that are closest to the city. The middle class moves farther and farther away from the urban cores. They live in the suburbs (ex-urbs now, really), they work in the suburbs, and they entertain themselves in the suburbs.

    There are fewer than 10,000 gentrified brownstones in Brooklyn, I’d suppose. There are several million suburban homes in the greater NYC area. Keep things in perspective. You, brownstoners, are a tiny fringe group, not a trend. The trend is clear: American population has become even MORE suburbanized over the last 5 years.

    And, with that, I’d say Manhattan below 96th, barring a crime wave of some sort, is on its way to almost total gentrification.

  • “Actually human beings were meant to live close to together in colonies. Similar to modern day cities.”

    That is totally absurb. First of all, today’s cities with 8 million people bear no resemblance to historical “colonies.” The closet thing to a historical colony is a rural village or a dense suburb. Certainly not a huge city.

    Second of all, anyone who has taken Psych 101 knows that Human beings thrive two things–contact and privacy. The place that makes people happy is where they can experience both. And that depends on the person. I’d bet that for most people it is the suburbs, where they can have privacy at home and contact with friends and neighbors.