Why the Suburbs Are Also Declining


Much of RenewLV’s work focuses on the revitalization of the cities in the Lehigh Valley. In part, we examine the structural issues that are in place that prohibit the redevelopment of brownfields and vacant lots in the cities and we work toward solutions to the challenges. But lately we’ve been realizing that the problem is not just affecting the cities anymore. The so-called inner-suburbs have also suffered a decline over the past two decades. In fact, this is the very issue that the Southeast Pennsylvania First Suburbs project works on and a significant part of the Building One Pennsylvania movement.

Urbanophile writes about this issue in a recent post, mentioning the huge unfunded liabilities that one generation lays in place for the next one to pay. They write:

It is a huge incentive for politicians and residents to vote for immediate gratification with the bill – infrastructure costs, pensions, redevelopment costs, or what have you – pushed out 25-30 years. Then these people or their children simply move to a greenfield and start the process over again.

And here is where the realization comes in:

If you think about it, we spend virtually all of our time in the planning process thinking about the upfront side of the development. We charge impact fees to mitigate road needs from new development and such. We go through an extensive review process to make sure there are no adverse impacts on the surroundings. But we spent little time thinking about the back end of the project, of its end of life, and the types of negative externalities that occur there as people can simply abandon homes and malls and go elsewhere.

One suggestion for how to plan for this, as mentioned by Urbanophile, is to mandate redevelopment insurance on the developer. Sure, it might serve as a disincentive to develop if only certain municipalities or states did this, but if it was mandated uniformly across the nation, then we would all be in the same boat. Read more about this idea on the original Urbanophile post.

Could this be one way that we could ensure that our communities don’t die? Essentially, what the decline of the inner suburbs has shown us is that, given the way we’ve been planning and developing in this nation, no community is safe from falling into distress. It’s happening all across Pennsylvania. And we have to do something about it.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on December 7, 2010, in Municipal Government, Public Infrastructure, Trends, Urbanism and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Requiring developers to cover or insure for the eventual redevelopment makes perfect sense, just as it makes sense to require manufacturers to provide for recycling and disposal of their products at the end of their life — and the same principle should be applied to gas drilling and other resource-extraction industries. They should be required to post a bond large enough to pay all cleanup & restoration costs, and they should also be required provide insurance to cover any unforeseen costs

    The alternative — the current situation — is that developers, manufacturers, and mining & drilling companies make huge profits by externalizing these costs and forcing taxpayers to cover them.

  1. Pingback: Weekly Transportation News - dev.tlcminnesota

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