Small front yards, bike lanes integrated into suburban areas.
Small front yards, bike lanes integrated into suburban areas.
Poverty has often been considered an inner city problem or a small town and rural problem, but the face of poverty is shifting in America. Communities that were once economically solid are now experiencing rising rates of economic distress.
Alan Berube, senior fellow and deputy director of Brookingâ€™s Metropolitan Program and Peter Edelman, faculty director, Center on Poverty, Inequality, and Public Policy, Georgetown Law School, discussed suburban poverty at APAâ€™s recent Federal Policy & Program Briefing.
Together with coauthor Elizabeth Kneebone, Berube has examined the phenomenon in Confronting Suburban Poverty in America (Brookings Press, 2013).
Peter Edelman has worked in anti-poverty programs and researched this subject for many years. According to Edelman, suburban poverty has been growing gradually, but has accelerated in the early 21st century: â€œPeople who once did all right are not doing all right now.â€
What makes poverty in the suburbs especially challenging? The concentration of poverty exacerbates the problem and the trend is toward more concentration.
Overall, Edelman said, 15 percent of Americans live in poverty but the in counties south of Washington, D.C., the rate is as much as 28 percent. In addition, the options for commuting to jobs are fewer in many suburbs than in urban areas. Further, the social services to assist people in need may not be well established in suburban communities.
The problem is becoming more complex, therefore the solution has to be to think in terms of a regional economy.
Part of the complexity is that â€œwe have become a nation of low-wage economyâ€ said Edelman. The median income for Americans has been stuck at around $34,000 for 40 years. Many, many Americans are not moving up the ladder and obtaining better pay. And, it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain a family on this income.
Single mothers with children â€” the most vulnerable â€” make up 42 percent of the poor.
The Regional Planning Association of America produced this film in the late 1930’s, hoping to put an end to the growth of large overcrowded cities and instead promote new suburban communities better suited to the needs and well-being of people.
Whatâ€™s interesting is that the idealized suburb/cities presented in the film are all walkable and bikeable. Autos are part of the urban disaster that is to be left behind by progress. We see from the air the familiar cul-de-sacs of todayâ€™s America but there are no six-lane arterial roads, no massive shopping centers with enormous parking lots. Kids ride around on bicycles along paths that look very much like what you see in the Netherlands of today, and in a few American cities such as Boulder, Colorado, or Davis, California.
In case you missed it, Dr. Larry Beasley joined The OurYXE podcast on Thursday and talked about urban planning, architecture, homelessness, and fixing suburbia. Â It’s a good interview and I learned a lot about how we can make Saskatoon a better place to live and work.
City-building is never easy, and Albertaâ€™s largest urban centre is a good example why. Despite the efforts of a growing number of people, sprawl in Calgary ranks amongst the worst in Canada.
According to some, fully 95 percent of population growth in this city of 1.2 million happens in the â€™burbs, which already occupy vast swaths of land surrounding the downtown core. Calgary is one of those nose-to-the-grindstone cities that empty out at night after workers return home to the hinterland.
On the other hand, this is also the municipality that elected Naheed Nenshi its mayor, a politician as dedicated as any in Canada to urbanism. It is also the city that commissioned Spanish architect/engineer Santiago Calatrava to design a footbridge across the Bow River. The Peace Bridge caused outrage when it was announced; most critics were unable to get beyond the $25-million pricetag.
But Calatrava, whose Toronto work includes the Galleria at Brookfield Place and the Mimico Creek Bridge, is arguably the best bridge designer in the world. His projects garner an international audience regardless of where theyâ€™re located. Local anger notwithstanding, Calatravaâ€™s beautiful bridge brought Calgary to the attention of many whoâ€™d never heard of it, let alone visited.
Today, of course, the colourful structure is one of the most popular in town. Calgarians cross it in droves; they stare, smile and take endless pictures. Wedding parties show up to have photographs taken. A year after it opened, it has become a hugely popular destination.
But as its champion, Calgary Councillor Druh Farrell, likes to say, the scars inflicted during the planning and construction of the project match the cross-bracing of the bridge.
â€œIt was hell,â€ Farrell recalls. â€œIâ€™d never want to go through that again.â€
She was accompanied to the opening a year ago by four burly men, just in case. As Nenshi asked a plannersâ€™ conference this week, â€œWhy do we make it so hard to do good stuff?â€
He wasnâ€™t talking about the bridge, but Garrison Woods, a neighbourhood built in recent years on a former military base in Calgaryâ€™s east end. With narrow streets, street-level shopping and apartments above, this looks â€” and functions â€” like an older part of town. It has a 19th-century scale and sense of connection.
A proud City of Calgary featured Garrison Woods on the cover of a recent planning document. The irony, Nenshi pointed out, is that the neighbourhood everyone loves broke â€œevery single ruleâ€ in the planning book. Getting it done took more than a decade as the city fought its own requirements every step of the way.
At the same time, developers continue the discredited and ruinous â€œmultiplication by subdivisionâ€ approach that has turned the outer reaches of Calgary into endless tracts of cookie-cutter housing.
It was no surprise, then, that Nenshi and Calgaryâ€™s biggest homebuilders group have just ended a nasty spat during which the mayor kicked the association off all city hall advisory committees and demanded an apology. Developers had accused Nenshi of imposing a suburban building freeze; something he, sadly, denied.
â€œWhy do we persist in building stuff people donâ€™t want and that doesnâ€™t work?â€ Nenshi asked planners.
Saskatoon needs to answer that question as well.