Best of 2016: Suburban Poverty

Daniel Herriges has written some of my favorite essays that we've published on Strong Towns. The following pieces on suburban poverty are no exception. During Housing Week, back in February, when we focused on the distorted impact of federal policy on the American housing market, Daniel wrote his first suburban poverty essay, documenting the phenomenon in his home state of Florida through photos and words. It reached a wide audience and we included it in our housing ebook, Distorted DNA: The Impact of Federal Housing Policy. Then in August, when we chose to focus a full week on the topic of suburban poverty, I asked him to write a follow-up essay. Daniel chose to go in-depth on one specific suburban poverty "boomtown" in Florida: Lehigh Acres. Both articles are well worth the read as stand-alone pieces, but as a series, they build upon one another in insightful ways.  - Rachel Quednau

Suburban Poverty: Hiding in Plain Sight

February 24, 2016

"There is arguably no place where half a century of suburban growth has more resembled a giant Ponzi scheme than in Florida. The state of Florida went all-in on the suburban experiment in a way that few other places did. For reasons that may have more than a little to do with the advent of air conditioning, the state's population did not begin to grow rapidly until the post-WWII era, when the economic and public policy forces driving suburbanization were at their peak. Add a state economy driven by land speculation and lax-to-nonexistent development regulations, and you've got yourself a perfect storm.

"Florida soon became the poster child for disastrously unsustainable development—both fiscally and environmentally. Unsurprisingly, boom-and-bust cycles tend to hit the state hard. The suburban experiment has been most ruinous in precisely the places that were first to embrace it, and that embraced it with the most reckless abandon..."  Read the rest of the article.

A Suburban Poverty Boomtown: Lehigh Acres, FL

August 17, 2016

"The growth of suburban poverty across our country—more poor Americans now live in suburbs than in central cities—is one of the big, important demographic stories of the last couple decades. Understanding suburban poverty is of vital importance to regional planning and policy.

"But the label itself is misleading. It hides the fact that there are many different types of suburbs, and that poverty in nominal "suburbs" has many different causes and manifestations. East St. Louis, Illinois; Gary, Indiana; and Camden, New Jersey are technically suburbs. But all three are quite urban in form and heavily industrial. Their infamously high poverty and crime rates are a decades-old story, rooted in the same forces that depopulated and impoverished "inner city" areas across the continent: white flight and heavily-subsidized suburban expansion in the postwar era, leaving behind a poor, ethnic minority population beset by heavy job losses in the deindustrialization wave of the 1970s. These places have little to do with the popular conception of suburbia..."  Read the rest of the article.