A War on Suburbs?

(h/t Kevin Drum) Joel Kotkin’s The War Against Suburbia (my underline):

A year into the Obama administration, America’s dominant geography, suburbia, is now in open revolt against an urban-centric regime that many perceive threatens their way of life, values, and economic future….

But now, once again, things have changed. For the first time in memory, the suburbs are under a conscious and sustained attack from Washington. Little that the administration has pushed—from the Wall Street bailouts to the proposed “cap and trade” policies—offers much to predominately middle-income oriented suburbanites and instead appears to have worked to alienate them….

In addition, the president’s stimulus—with its $8 billion allocation for high-speed rail and proposed giant increases in mass transit—offers little to anyone who lives outside a handful of large metropolitan cores.

I find it’s easier to read things like this when I imagine the steam pouring out of Ryan Avent’s ears like a Looney Tunes character as he reads it. That said I’ll take this one because it’s easy.

From the ProPublica Stimulus Spending List:

Highway infrastructure investment $26,725,000,000
Highway infrastructure funds distributed by states $60,000,000
Highway infrastructure funds for the Indian Reservation Roads program $550,000,000
Highway infrastructure funds for surface transportation technology training $20,000,000
Highway infrastructure to fund oversight and management of projects $40,000,000
Additional capital investments in surface transportation including highways, bridges, and road repairs $1,298,500,000
Administrative costs for additional capital investments in surface transportation $200,000,000

High speed rail capital assistance $8,000,000,000

Check that out: Over $28 billion dollars allocated to highway spending, with over $26 billion allocated to “Highway infrastructure investment.” That’s over three times the amount spent on the $8 billion for “high speed rail capital assistance.”

We know from econometric studies that the building of highways in the 1950s was essential for the way suburban development happened in the United States. And with the growth of exurbs, access to functioning highway infrastructure is even more essential. It would be incredibly difficult to come up with an argument for how $28 billion dollars in highway development is primarily helping those living in urban cores except through second-order effects.

It amazes me is that this piece of the stimulus is completely overlooked as a giant boom to the suburbs. There’s this weird assumption that highways and the rest of the infrastructure that makes the conditions for the suburbs possible are just magically built and maintained, as if the other half of Americans who don’t live in the suburbs don’t chip in to pay for it.

And just out of curiosity, what would have happened to the suburbs if we had let Fannie and Freddie fail? Did anyone do any estimates of that?

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5 Responses to A War on Suburbs?

  1. Russ says:

    Given that the one and only “idea” this government has is to reflate asset bubbles, including mortgages if possible, how can suburbia not think Obama’s doing all he can for it?

    He wants nothing more ardently than to allocate ever more to what James Howard Kunstler calls “the worst misallocation of resources in history.”

    Chalk up another one for the list of the suburban insanity.

  2. Mike says:

    Did you see this? I meant to put it in the post:


    Worth checking out – they keep huffing and puffing but housing prices just really want to come down…

    • Russ says:

      That’s really something. I guess they think the part about “Jobs Created” will magically take care of itself. And those will be living wage jobs. The requirement for a living wage being something they’re intent on driving up and up and up since they want to drive up the cost of necessities like housing….

  3. David Smith says:

    I think you’re way to smart to think that is any kind of meaningful or persuasive comparison. How many people get use out of the highway system that is getting the $28b of investment? Include everyone who buys things in stores, not just the relative few [ahem] who drive.

    Now tell me how many people you think will get use out of the high speed rail. No cheating . . . . let’s assume realistic ticket prices, transit is expensive in this country and really rapid transit will be too.

    The Orlando-Tampa Bay link might be the single most pointless expenditure of infrastructure money outside Japan.

  4. Mike says:

    I grant second order effects of highway investment to urban cores – faster delivery of services and goods, etc.

    But second order effects run both ways – when I used to commute by car on highways to suburbs every morning, often I’d take the trains instead – and everytime I took the trains, the highways were one less car congested, which kept cars from idling, smog from being in the air, etc. So rail investment is a boon to the suburbs as well.

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