Thursday, February 23, 2006

The Graying of Suburbia

Brookings Institution Cites Nassau As One Of America's "First Suburbs"

"A Brookings Institution study last week confirmed what I've been saying all along - that mature suburbs like ours won't generate enough economic growth if we do nothing and just allow them to stagnate."

~Thomas R. Suozzi, Nassau County Executive

A Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program Symposium: One-Fifth of the Nation: A Comprehensive Guide to America's First Suburbs

BRUCE KATZ (Vice President and Senior Fellow, Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings): What is a first suburb? Why do we care? By our definition, first suburb counties are places that adjoin a central city that was one of the hundred most populous cities in 1950. These counties were literally the first to suburbanize, many after World War II, some even prior to World War II, in the era of trolley cars. Over the past half-century, many labels have been given to these places. Older suburbs, inner-ring suburbs, first-tier communities, close-in suburbs. Several weeks ago Fred Barnes of the Weekly Standard referenced the latest entry, "inurbs."

We call them first suburbs partly to reflect the sequence of suburbanization, partly to avoid any pejorative term that would inhibit market investment, and partly to acknowledge that these places are worthy of special attention from federal and state governments, private investors, political pundits, and academics. We've got to have a plug for Brookings.

Let me tease out the last point. It's our belief that the first suburbs occupy a unique place in the hierarchy of American jurisdictions. After 50 years or more of development, many are increasingly experiencing the central-city-like challenges that come with age, the infrastructure of these places, the roads, the schools, the commercial corridors, the housing, is in need of reinvestment and even redevelopment. And like cities, these places are diversifying quickly, and while relatively well-off, are struggling to respond to those challenges.

Yet first suburbs in physical form, in cultural attitudes, are quintessential suburban. Almost all were developed in the age of the auto, almost all were developed at a time when the rage of planning was to keep all uses, residential, commercial, industrial, office, separate. Thus they look and feel like classic suburban bedroom communities, for good and bad; quiet, leafy, quality single-family neighborhoods connected by commercial arteries that were often chaotically planned, quickly and cheaply built, and are now traffic-choked, particularly on weekends.

We believe that this distinctive status of first suburbs are still not recognized or understood by many, and that status comes at a heavy price.

Read Sen. Clinton's remarks (PDF—50kb)

Read the full transcript (PDF—357kb)
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Click HERE to read "First Suburbs" data and findings
SEE, New York Times Op-Ed, Extreme Makeover: Nassau
SEE, Newsday Editorial, First Suburbs Need Help

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