Get off my smaller lawn

“The suburbs are dead,” declares Eric Klinenberg in the Playboy Forum (1/2-13), offering several sets of statistics, including this one that caught me off-guard:

According to Christopher Leinberger, a Brookings Institution fellow and professor at the George Washington University business school, urban planners and real estate developers expect a huge surplus of large-lot houses (built on a sixth of an acre or more) in the coming decades. One expert predicts an oversupply of roughly 40 percent of these homes by 2025.

Wait a minute. A sixth of an acre — 7,260 square feet — is now a “large lot”?

I tracked down Leinberger’s article, which appeared in The Atlantic in 2008, and yes, that’s what he said about “large lots.” Which suggests that when I fake my death and go off to live with Twilight Sparkle, I should have the house torn down and the humongous quarter-acre lot subdivided into two 5500-square-foot sections. Yeah, the city will just love that.

Then again, from that same bit of fiction:

There had been something here once, he remembered: a little stone house and a gravel driveway. Five or six years ago, there was a sign on the corner, proclaiming a New Upscale Development, with a number to call and a Web site to visit. A year or two later, with gasoline pushing five dollars a gallon, no one wanted to live in the 31000 block of anything, and the development was abandoned.

And Leinberger, we should remember, also said this:

I doubt the swing toward urban living will ever proceed as far as the swing toward the suburbs did in the 20th century; many people will still prefer the bigger houses and car-based lifestyles of conventional suburbs. But there will almost certainly be more of a balance between walkable and drivable communities — allowing people in most areas a wider variety of choices.

Which contradicts Klinenberg almost entirely. Still, so long as they can sell living downtown as a premium experience — and in this town, they can — that’s probably the way to bet.


  1. Charles Pergiel »

    16 December 2012 · 1:26 pm

    The United States has two halves. One half is the Bos-Wash megapolis where half the population live in overpriced, undersize hovels, and the rest of the country where free men & women live in real houses on their palatial plantations.

  2. Brian J. »

    17 December 2012 · 4:08 pm

    Those paying attention recently to development patterns in the real world might notice that (contra the Census Bureau’s definition of “Urban Cluster” of any township exceeding 10,000 people) non-suburban living will occur in a diffuse fashion as well.

    In the St. Louis area, the change hasn’t been from people going from their far-flung suburbs back to the densely populated urban core dating from the 18th century. Instead, other suburbs are developing densely where near suburban developments. Clayton, the county seat of St. Louis, for example, or the St. Charles-O’Fallon, Missouri, population centers are drawing employers and more dense-style developments amidst the deplored suburbs.

    Which still means that even the dense locales won’t be dense enough for preferred urban solutions like sardine transit.

  3. CGHill »

    17 December 2012 · 8:49 pm

    We’re seeing something similar in OKC, with folks flocking to central Norman and Edmond. Of course, they weren’t technically suburbs until OKC began encroaching on them.

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