Wither Suburbia?

I received this New York Times piece from an avid fixBuffalo reader yesterday - What Will Save the Suburbs? by Allison Arieff.
Aerial 65
Aerial 65 - Sarah McKenzie
Buffalo ReUse gets a shout-out in Arieff's musings about suburbia.
There has been a nationwide shift toward de-construction (led by companies like Planet Reuse and Buffalo Reuse, the surgical taking-apart of homes to salvage the building materials for reuse, but often the building materials used in these developments aren’t of good enough quality to warrant salvaging.
An amazing comment stream after Arieff's post shouldn't be missed.
I also received this via Planetizen - One Woman's Confession "I Hate Suburbia" a look back to a moment that first appeared in a 1965 issue of Lady's Circle. While catching up with email and posting this evening I've been listening to The Long Emergency, an hour long interview with James Howard Kunstler on google video that I also received in an email yesterday.

Suburbs must have been in the air yesterday as I spent about half an hour driving around some of Clarence NY's toniest McMansions, Spaulding Lake. The loop was unexpected. Next time I'll bring a camera. Really wild. Any suburban bloggers nearby?
ArtspaceBAVPAWoodlawn Row HousesfixBuffalo flickr
Creative ClassShrinking CitiesSaturdays in the neighborhood


Anonymous said...

There is only one in the area that I can think of. It's in Wheatfield on Errick Rd near Niagara Falls Blvd. They tore out an entire field and built the roads. I think there is maybe 1 house for the entire thing? It's really odd to see.

Next time I'm out that way I'll snap a picture for you.

The funny thing is most long time residents are opposed to these types of developments there and have been getting more vocal about them recently and have even stopped a few of them from happening.


Anonymous said...

im always particularly tickled when suburban and exurbanites stop a development. nothing like a little hypocrisy. they got theirs, and they aint gonna share.

Anonymous said...

I certainly won’t apologize for living in the suburbs (although I live in an older first ring suburb that is basically the city anyway), nor will I condemn those that have chosen large homes, large lots, and better schools over cramped living spaces (yards), horrible on-streets parking conditions (particularly in winter); more crime; and homes that let’s face it, in Buffalo, are largely under-insulated, uncomfortable, antiquated in need of a great deal of remodeling just to get them to the sub-standards of a current Ryan Home.

There is obviously major disconnects between urban and suburban dwellers and its seems at least on the part of the urban dwellers some major animosity toward the other, which I find understandable in the sense that suburban flight has ruined a lot of the urban fabric, but at the same time I can’t understand the idea that urban dwellers somehow are fixated on trying to tell suburbanites how to live and further spending time trying to cut down their choices. How many blogs are out there from suburbanites slamming the urban lifestyle or the choice of same?

This is America after all and those with mobility are also afforded the opportunity to do as they please and pick where they want to live, and in a vast many of the cases, choose where they send their kids to school. Every single pro-Buffalo couple I’ve known who lived in the city moved out immediately upon the start of school for their kids. I know two couples now with kids in the city who have stated that as soon as they’re school-age, they’re heading to the suburbs. So if that makes these people ignorant, unappreciative of architecture or city living and pro-car in the eyes of the city zealots, so be it I guess.

I’ll be the first one to argue that sprawl has been a major detriment to this region, without question. The issues of social, economic and even environmental equity are very serious and worth talking about. Common sense tells you that less and less people doesn’t require any new homes.

At the same time, a free market economy and what I would can pro-sprawl land use policies in WNY not only make development happen, but promote it.

I think however, my biggest complaint about the urban-suburban discourse rests with the blogosphere, in particular the ever present socialist belief that everyone who spends their own money should adhere to the public’s tastes and wants. And by that I mean, the hypocrisy of the blogosphere is atrocious. One one hand there is constant complaining and animosity regarding suburban investment and urban disinvestment and then incessant whining when someone invests in the city yet doesn’t do what the blogosphere thinks should be done. The vinyl Victorian mentality basically. What an overused, pretentious term. Vinyl, despite the vitriolic hatred of it, is an efficient cost-effective and most importantly long lasting product with low maintenance. Everyone is so hung up on the MATERIAL and not it’s intent that it’s laughable. When you sheathe a house, your first order of business is to provide a building envelope. Aesthetics is secondary. The expectation that everyone have brick or cedar shakes or clapboard is not only unrealistic, it’s impractical. Most people don’t have the time and energy to devote to constant maintenance on a home.

What is funniest though is that Spaulding Lake gets slammed as McMansions (each home in Spaulding Lake is a custom home seen nowhere else so the term actually doesn’t fit since “McMansion” was really coined for the characterless Ryan and Marrano type subdivisions where every 3rd house is the same, save the siding color), yet most of those homes have more architectural detail and character (despite the attached garages), and many have a significant amount of brick, than most of what people consider great in the City of Buffalo. I would say that many streets in and around Elmwood are as guilty of having the same home dotted up and down the streets as any subdivision. Oh but wait, my bad. That’s OK, McVictorians are OK because they’re in the city.

As for Errick Road, any lack of movement on home construction is in connection with the slump in the economy, not this unfounded perception that people are moving back into the city in droves. Where’s the data? It’s hard to prove something anecdotal when the city is still bleeding population. I think a lot of people are confusing investment in homes with population migration. I would bet that for every person who moves into the city, 2 move out. Erie and Niagara County typically see about 900 new homes per year and 2008 was no different and 2009 might see small dip that city dwellers will attribute to a desire for people to move back into the city and people with the understanding of economics will attribute to a downturn in the economy.

I love the city as much as the next person. But I don’t waste my time thinking about how suburbanites are screwing the city over or trying to somehow dictate to them where they should live. And I certainly don’t find city dwellers anymore enlightened, intelligent, world or sophisticated, as they would have you belief based on their willingness to tell you, than suburbanites.

stephanie said...

I live in a 'burb, much to my inital kicking and screaming.
Riverside used to be home, but as the neighborhood changed, so did my perception.

Husband-to-be wanted to live in the suburbs while I was bent on living in the city. My reasoning was that amenities were close, neighbors were friendly and it was my childhood home.

We ended up finding a unique home in a developed area (well, it is different house than the others on the street).
I have to drive to get eggs/sugar, we still don't know our neighbors all that well, but, I have to say, I like not fighting for parking spots and having enough lawn to play on.

When thing need/want replacing, I often go to BuffaloReUse or Habitat for Humanity to retrofit my home.
I find it funny that I buy new things from old houses...

STEEL said...

Anaonymous #4,

You make a lot or presumptions about the city suburb debate, many of which are overly general or inaccurate.

McMansion refers to large cheaply built poorly proportioned and awkwardly detailed houses. It dose not refer to look a like houses though it does suggest a mass produced process.

No one is forcing anyone to live in the city or even suggesting such a thing. People are certainly free to make choices. But when that choice is a subsidized choice I think people have a right to complain. Sprawl is subsidized. Free parking at suburban shopping centers is subsidized. The amount spent government in the suburbs is also far higher per capita. If people paid the true cost of living in the suburbs they would very likely make different choices. The massive infrastructure that supports sprawl is a burden that keeps growing as Erie county continues to shrink!

On top of that people move to the suburbs and the hypocritically look down their noses at the ever more concentrated poverty and the problems that go with it that they leave behind. Isn't it reasonable that a person living in the city would be a bit disgruntled that he/she is left holding the burden of poverty for the region?

Top it all off with the gradual loss of the region's heritage as disinvestment destroys the city. Demolition by neglect and disinvestment hurts everyone in the WNY area. Too many people see this problem as someone elses matter to worry about. Companies do locate in place that do not appear vibrant. Each new sprawl dollar is a dollar spent making the WNY area look less vibrant.

STEEL said...

That's "companies do NOT locate in ..."

BlackRocker said...

Anonymous #4- "The issues of social, economic, and even environmental equity are very serious and worth talking about" You summed it up, The rest of us can't afford to carry the regions burden of the poor and disadvantaged and the countryside cannot continue to be exploited for the benefit of few. As for vinyl siding, it a serious problem for the environment from the manufacturing process to the disposal of this toxic product.

fix buffalo said...

I've re-set this comment from earlier - anon 10:36am - as the url that was provided was broken in the comment. Crazy view. - David

"This is the overhead view of the landscape that Eisenbart mentions above. It is worth viewing."

Anonymous said...

Suburban upper income residents send enormous subsidies into the city every year through the state income taxes they pay. State aid per capita received by the city is much higher than that received by suburban municipalities. Medicaid benefits per capita are also much higher in the city. Meanwhile suburban residents pay much higher state income taxes per capita due to their tax brackets, and higher county property taxes due to having on average houses with higher assessments. On top of all that, NY state gasoline taxes are near the highest in the nation and also help make suburb dwellers pay more than their fair share for highway infrastructure. Local streets and sewers are primarily paid for by local property taxes.

Crisa said...

Hey! It looks like BR is coming to FB!

On topic: To the anonymous person here at FB who is living near the Buffalo city line:: Somewhere in the 1960s/1970/1980 archives of The Courier Express and The Buffalo Evening News and The Buffalo News is the history of the poorly built Ryan Homes of the '60s into the '80s.

Would you believe that what is being built within Buffalo now is better built?

And would you believe that existing residents in the semi-urban areas have always objected strongly to new development; and always eventually lost?

Heck, it wasn't all that long ago that farmers were up in arms about the beginning development of the burbs.

What upsets me in ALL online discussions of city vs subburbs is what happens to 'rag-faced dolls AND their counterparts, the porcelain-faced dolls, when parents choose to run'.

Remember Raggedy Ann and Andy and why they came about?

Heck. Remember why Andy came first and why Ann was added later?--But that's another topic altogether...)

BlackRocker said...

In response to anonymous 2:00 AM. The majority of WORKING residents of the city receive no subsidy from surburbanites. The reason medicaid spending is higher in the city is because suburban governments have done a thorough job of containing all the poor within the city.
It is difficult to quanify the true cost of sprawl but the damage to our social fabric, our economy, and our environment is great. To claim suburbanites are paying the real cost of their lifestyle choice is either dishonest or naive

STEEL said...


Medicaid payments to individuals are not a subsidies to the city. They are payments to an individual. Also a person making 100K living in the city pays the same taxes as a person living in the suburbs making 100K yet the city person is also burdened by the problems of the poor which are isolated to the city limits.

You might also note that an acre of land in the city with thousands of residents is paying far far far more taxes than an acre of land in the suburbs that can often hold fewer than 1 tax payer. That one suburban tax payer requires far more infrastructure to support his life style choice. He requires more roads and longer water lines. He requires more plowing and emergency services are spread thinner in order to cover more distance. That one suburban tax payer also gets his phone, cable TV and electrical service at the same price as people living in dense areas even though it cost far more to provide that service. Who do you think makes up the difference? And next time you drive your car around make sure you stop by a book store and pick up a copy of "The high Price of Free Parking" The suburbs are built on supposedly free parking that really isn't

The truth is that the suburban life style choice is highly subsidized and I did not even get into the destruction of Buffalo parks, parkways and its waterfront so that suburbanites can get around easier.

Anonymous said...

Nice try, both of you. Yes, entitlement programs are one category of how suburban taxpayers disproportionately subsidize the city --- but only one. In addition, Buffalo's city government services, capital projects, and its school system all receive NY State aid in grossly disproportionate amounts per capita compared to what their suburban counterparts receive. That subsidizes ALL Buffalo taxpayers by more greatly reducing property tax bills thanks to county and state taxes paid in greater amounts per capita by suburbanites. Now add all of those categories together and see how ridiculous it is for the earlier comment to claim that Buffalo residents are unfairly subsidizing suburban residents when so clearly the opposite is true.

Anonymous said...

I am not understanding what you are saying. So, the government provides benefits to a poor person who happens to live in the city. Another person living in the city earns 100k and a suburban person also makes 100K. Are you saying that the suburban person pays more income tax that the city person????

In the city(or inner suburb -same thing) 800 people live on a street that is a quarter mile long. In the far out spralburbs perhaps 35 people occupy a street at that length. The amount of power lines needed to serve those people is several hundred times more than for the city person. The same goes for telephone lines, and possibly water as sewer as well. Since those people possibly moved out there from Cheektowaga or some other densely built area that town's schools have a declining enrollment making education more expensive there. Those outer suburb people need a lot of roads and highways to get to their houses. Since they can't walk anywhere they need roads more often which means they need to be bigger and wider and need more maintenance. Since they drive so much oil becomes the focus of our economy. It must be protected at any cost. It forces us into a middle eastern policy that is extremely expensive and dangerous. Massive amounts of paved areas for roads and parking cause flooding and destruction to rivers and water quality. Buffalo's suburbs dump tons of pollutants into area streams.

So as Metro Buffalo shrinks people insist on spreading out into the countryside further and further with more and more required infrastructure for few and few people. If fewer people require more stuff it gets more expensive to have that stuff for each person. The people living in the dense areas pay the extra price otherwise the people who chose to live way out in sprawl areas would not be able to afford it.

BlackRocker said...

Lets not forget the largest subsidy that is enjoyed mainly by suburbanites, the tax deduction for mortgage interest. This is the single largest transfer of wealth in America and benefits only those with high incomes and expensive homes. Very few city residents have enough interest or income to take advantage of this government giveaway.

Anonymous said...

Tax deduction of mortgage interest occurs in both the city (a lot in Delaware, Elmwood, Hertel) and suburbs. Non issue in this context. Ask Obama, Pelosi, and Reid to eliminate the mortgage deduction for all I care. They have the power to eliminate it if they want to. I'd like to see it eliminated in fact.

Last time:

1.) It's not about only welfare payments to individuals. That's only one portion.

2.) In _addition_ to entitlement spending, there's a LOT of state aid to Buffalo city government ("City Hall"), and the Buffalo school system. I shouldn't have ad to repeat that, but you ignored it last time. Yes, Erie County's suburban schools and municipalities also receive NY state aid, but a lot less per capita than aid received by the city. All of this is verifiable online. On average (note Anon 11:35) residents of Erie Co suburbs pay more state income taxes per capita than city residents, and pay a higher portion of property taxes for their own local services.

3.) I'm not saying redistributing wealth from suburbanites into the city via state aid and entitlements are necessarily good or bad. That's a separate issue, not what I'm talking about.

The point here (also note, Anon 11:35) is to refute the following from the comment at 4:14 on Jan 14:

"People are certainly free to make choices. But when that choice is a subsidized choice I think people have a right to complain. Sprawl is subsidized. Free parking at suburban shopping centers is subsidized. The amount spent government in the suburbs is also far higher per capita. If people paid the true cost of living in the suburbs they would very likely make different choices."

The above is blatantly one-sided by making it sound as if subsidies are unbalanced in the direction _only_ of taking money earned by city residents and redistributing it to the benefit of suburban development. That argument ignores reality that different kinds of subsidies go BOTH WAYS, and there's a huge amount of subsidies which ON AVERAGE suburban residents fund disproportionately in the city.

BlackRocker said...

Welfare and school aid is higher in the city because we carry the REGIONS burden of the poor. The suburbs have used zoning, auto dependency and covert racism to make sure all the "undesirables are contained within the border of Buffalo. The costs of sprawl are paid by all of us while the negative consequences are born by the old truly sustainable communities.
Only in hindsight will we able to see just how expensive and damaging this 50 year experiment has been to our society.

Crisa said...

I love the way this topic has grown, but,,,

Don't forget that there are plenty of people both city and suburbs with NO mortgage payments! Yes! Such people actually exist!

And especially here in WNY, where homeowners are not like, say, Manhattanites, family still counts over amassing a fortune.

I don't think the housing mess is going away.

I think sprawl is over with.

I know there are people stuck with mortgage payments in houses that are no longer increasing in value--but WNY is not this country's worse such situation. In the meantime, who doesn't accept the fact about where house "values" are headed?

The ONLY value of a house is the original cost to build it. After that the value becomes artificial and relys on what the public is willing to pay.

The buying public is no longer willing and able...

And, I think it won't be long before existing houses will come down to affordable for young families something like they were in the 1960s.

I think it is past time to stay in one place and think of a house as a home and part of a stable community.

"Building up" past a 2nd house is pure vanity and/or a greedy quest.

Thinking of a house as your home is stability.

Stability equals staying power, and it works!

And besides all that, the "poor" are not stationarily concentrated any longer.

Crisa said...

I don't mean that the cost of building a house will 'come down to affordable for young families' and cost the same as the 1960s--not unless the prices drop to between $15,000/$20,000!!!

I mean that in the 1960s it was possible for young families to be able to afford a house while their kids were small--those families knew what stability meant and those adults had no intentions of moving again and again--but then their 'kids' grew up feeling they have to keep moving on up, up and awayyyyy.

Many of those same 1960s once-young homeowners are grandparents and even great-grands now and still living in those homes mortgage free.

What I mean is that in the 1960s young working-class families with children could afford a house not long after starting their jobs and starting their families.

Many of those earlier families' incomes were $10,000/$20,000 and the new-builts cost between $15,000/$20,000.

Paying up a mortgage and staying in one place ("putting down roots")doesn't occur to young families anymore--and,they have learned to accept that mortgage payments will be forever.

Although, with the mess, that thinking process might change soon.

Another matter: When I use my term 'PrairiesEast' and PrairiesEast Estates, I mean the eastern section of Buffalo and it's suburbs become one area in the future, where real-estate investors and their transient tenants now dominate until no more houses are left standing; then that vastly vacated area could be named PrairiesEast or PrairiesEast Estates.

But then again, in the future, the name "Buffalo" probably will be changed. After all, why was it named "Buffalo" to begin with? Was Beautiful River mispronounced?

The bigger picture: After the 'investors' and their transients have caused massive demolitions, and the eastern end of Buffalo, NY is refurbished to new housing investments called PrairiesEast,(think urban-division, not "sub-division"),,,

then would Buffalo be PrairiesEast, NY or, it being on the western end of NYS, how about PrairiesWest, NY?

Does this all sound strange? I feel this way because I (and plenty of others who read this stuff but don't post comments) never felt that Buffalo and its burbs were separate--as time is demonstrating that they are not--and while time is also showing what happens when an invisible, preceived safe and supposedly indistructable wall is imagined to exist by the majority...

Crisa said...

Another matter: We went to see Gran Torino.

We had heard that the move was based on reality.

Every older adult reading online today can ID with that reality of the '60s; if not for having lived it, then in having been aware of it and trying to escape away from a city where that reality once did happen.

We wondered how the hero could get away with what he was saying and doing.

I don't want to give away the story...

Although this Buffalo never got that bad, such bad stuff WAS why people left in the '60s, and,,,

while Buffalo will never see another 1960s,,,

present day Buffalo DOES still have plenty of those gorgeous well-builts!!!...

Crisa said...

Just a note: I am also prairieseast.wordpress.com and I set that blog up simply to claim PrairiesEast and PrairiesEast Estates as my thought. Thank you.

stephanie said...

On another post you had asked
"Do you [two] see a need for a plan to prevent blight from bounding (bounding as an intransitive verb) your way?"

I do think there needs to be a plan. There is so much space downtown that sits vacant, dilapidated, underused, etc. that if the measures would be taken to "spruce up the place" I may be more willing to come/stay downtown.
Now I am here for work and then I go home.
Sure, we come in for the Sabres games, but our visit usually only includes Pearl Street or Morrisey's.
The one time that a friend and I ventured further past City Grille (after business hours), we felt like we were in a ghost town.
Don't think we'll be venturing that far again...

Providing housing and amenities to bring people downtown, but it seems near impossible to have one without the other.
It seems like the Elmwood area thrives because they have all the elements: housing, activities, amenities.
Downtown on the other hand only seems to have one or two elements at one time.

If you build it, they will come?

Crisa said...


Your blog is nice and your post here at Fix Buffalo about the usual activities in downtown Buffalo is a good one, but, I was asking what you (and others) are doing to stop real estate investors and their transient tenants from overrunning WNY--unless of course it isn't much noticable outside the city limits or W. Cheektowaga (or E. Amherst or W. Seneca or S. Buffalo) yet, that is...

NOTE from your blog: All the TV media had fun this bitter cold spell by throwing liquids into the air.

My favorite was the TV news guy who blew bubbles from a store bought (toy department) container. When the bubbles burst, they came down as deflated balloons instead of spray. Who knew! lol All the local TV news media had fun with that this year.

Then there was the thing in the news about a boy from the same town where A Christmas Story was filmed actually freezing his tongue to a pole, actually having the police and fire department be called... I guess that wasn't a publicity stunt and the boy got his sore tongue loose on his own.

Another NOTE: Spring is NOT just around the corner yet. Ground-hog's day is close though. That's a start!