Move to Levittown in the 1950s, say, and you would be surrounded by people just like you: middle class, gainfully employed, and generally on the way up. In fact, suburbs have often been criticized for separating people by social class, with isolated wealthy enclaves as the jackpot that upwardly mobile Americans aspired to.
Well, times have changed.
Earlier this year, the Brookings Institution released a study called "The Suburbanization of Poverty," that tracks economic changes in non-urban areas. Their findings might surprise you:
"By 2008, suburbs were home to the largest and fastest-growing poor population in the country. Between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country's largest metro areas saw their poor population grow by 25 percent-almost five times faster than primary cities and well ahead of the growth seen in smaller metro areas and non-metropolitan communities."The stats reinforce what urbanist (or maybe we should call him a suburbanist) Joel Kotkin pronounced in a recent article. Kotkin blames the Obama administration for neglecting the suburbs, claiming its policies favor the inner city and contribute to the degradation of outlying areas. (He even credits dissatisfied suburban voters with the upset in Massachusetts. Scott Brown, he says, was elected by those outside the city).
The explanation for the rise in suburban poverty would seem obvious, especially to those of us who live in cities: Urban centers are still where the jobs are. Not so, according to Kotkin, who asserts that suburbs now hold the majority of jobs and, accordingly, this is where more than half of Americans live. (By the way, it's very hard to clearly determine this, since the census doesn't track suburban versus urban dwellers).
One thing is clear: Suburbs will be more economically diverse in the future, with more residents receiving public assistance, more big houses being abandoned or adaptively reused to create multi-family dwellings. It's a 21st century realization of Le Corbusier's Contemporary City, in which wealthy inhabitants resided in the center, with the workers spread out in low-rise housing around them-only this version features malls, two-car garages and backyard swimming pools.