White Flight, Suburbia, Danger, and Real Estate

White flight is the post World War II phenomenon of vacating a city’s traditional residential areas in favor of newly created suburban developments. De-segregation caused part of it, with black families moving into white areas and causing a snowball effect- “blockbusting”- where white families try and escape a supposed drop in property values. The Interstate system and availability of the assembly line automobile caused part of it too. Finally, the increasing size of the urban middle class due to urbanized GIs filled the existing white-residential areas, and movement to the periphery was easier than overtaking black-dominant areas.

Before continuing, I want to question the idea of value in real estate. Some people believe that property can be inherently valuable, with beach front and waterfronts having a higher ‘intrinsic’ value than inner city blocks. The market will always value this kind of property short of total market collapse, but in the case of “what makes a good residential property” the values can shift easily. For example, a family might like living in an urban old-fashioned 1920s home for its project value just as much as another family might like having a backyard in a suburb. Therefore the same objective reasoning will lead to different subjective choices between generations.

Having completed the stigmas of political de-segregation, dating 2.0 is the next social shift that is going to change the urban landscape. Our most recent modern trend (the housing bubble) foreshadows what is to come. My theory is that the boom of demand for suburban houses was a reflection of women who could not find emotional safety and security in the husband, therefore requiring separation and isolation from society to raise kids. Circumstantial proof: classifying men into ‘betas’, stay at home dads, and the correlation of herb-like guys and suburban  life.

The next step will be apparent as marriage rates diminish. Having abandoned religion and marriage, single young professionals will value ‘proximity to the action’ more than anything else. Traditional urban areas are already organized for high social contact. You will see these areas begin to grow again, with a demand for high density, multi story, mixed developments. At the same time, buildings associated with tradition will not have as large an impact (think church and public square at the center of public life). There will be much more experimentation with adapting and rethinking residential and commercial uses.

With the high potential for losing the status of a city-girl, women have less incentive to invest in a home out in suburbia. A generation of women who love city night life will not give it up easily with children. I imagine that within the decreasing birth rate trend, more of those kids will be born to an urban lifestyle. The suburbia-safety paradigm is leaving behind sackless men and empowered women in its wake. I think that the suburbs will eventually become decayed and home to the lower class, immigrants, and a leftover percentage of weak male centered families.

San Francisco is a perfect confirmation of a city that resembles this. Back in the 50s and 60s, much of the white residents of the city relocated across the bay to Oakland and Berkeley. The drama of hippies, black power, and immigrants took over San Francisco. The newest generation of young whites is much more interested in living hipster, engaging in casual sex, staying in the downtown area, and doing it as cheap as necessary to stay close to the action. Now, instead of young white professionals commuting into the city, you have low class immigrants and laborers taking over Oakland and Berkeley to commute into the city. A 20-something girl I met in a bar downtown who lived in Oakland couldn’t wait to earn enough to afford a small place in the city. Needless to say, I didn’t want to commute across the bay for a hookup. Especially considering the reputation her and her friend gave it: full of gang violence, racial tension and low class depression.



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4 Responses to White Flight, Suburbia, Danger, and Real Estate

  1. JPM says:

    I think you may be on to something here. As a real estate person involved in far-suburban development, i think about this a lot. For the most part, I agree with you.

  2. dorsey47 says:

    I think you may be underestimating the breeding of the suburban model. If the urbanites are aborting, the suburbanites are birthing and adopting. The future belongs to those who show up.

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