Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The suburbs are ready for their Victor Hugo

An old story: a world of poor irregular people attracts writers who make a cruddy place cool and then it becomes a fashionable address and then the poor, irregular people have to go live somewhere else. And then someone writes a musical about the good old bad old days and people who can afford the tickets feel safe going to the theater in a former bad neighborhood to watch it.

So we know that American money, what there is of it, is flowing into our center cities as it did in Paris generations ago. So the flow of poverty here necessarily has to be out of center cities. (In keeping with this week's theme of J.Q. Wilson debunkery, I'll add that this explains more about the decline of U.S. inner-city crime than any particular policing strategy.)

A new HUD report on suburban poverty confirms the trend:
"Over the past decade... poverty grew almost five times faster in the suburbs than in urban areas. Although cities still contend with higher poverty rates — twice those of the suburbs, on average — in absolute numbers poor people in the suburbs now outnumber their urban counterparts by 1.5 million."
Suburban poverty just has to be cruddier. It's not picturesque, it forces people to get by on foot in places designed for car travel, and it isn't leavened by the jumbling among social classes that happens in even the most regulated city center.

Also, as the HUD people note, suburban towns and charities have less money and aren't as well organized. Not to mention the transportation problem.

Would guess that the U.S. expulsion of poor people into economically segregated suburbs will get even worse with the current decline in homeownership, with its flow of formerly owned homes into the hands of landlords, and with the interest from HUD and from other federal housing-related agencies (item via Ritholtz) in selling off foreclosed houses as rental properties. Now that Fannie Mae has already decided to make these kinds of sales, we're in for a long slow slump of moldering Sheetrock out in Edge City.

That means soon enough it will be time for a clutch of morally improving literary and kitsch masterpieces about the hard-pressed lives of forgotten American suburbanites.

How much longer after that before a U.S. version of favela tourism takes off?

Is "Jersey Shore" an early symptom?

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