Sometimes I look at a place and wonder how it continues to limp along. Expert VCR repair? Hmmmm. VHS or Betamax? Clearly this sleepy 1950’s suburb has managed to drag itself all the way into the 1980’s without ruffling the feathers of its long time residents. Unfortunately, change has come and gone without them. Sony finally stopped making replacement flints for those machines.
Back in the day this community was a refuge for middle class people who moved away from the city center in search of safety and a better school district. Now, decades later, it’s populated by a fair-to-middling working class demographic. Anyone with real money moved on to a shiny new McMansion suburb or downtown condo long ago. Homes here sell for half or a third as much on a per-square-foot basis as properties in fancier newer suburbs. Rents are radically lower than newly fashionable urban neighborhoods. This is typical of many aging suburbs. They fall short on all fronts.
This is Main Street. Exciting isn’t it? It doesn’t exactly give you that toasty warm Norman Rockwell mom and apple pie feeling as you zip by at sixty miles per hour on the way to big box stores and chain restaurants farther down the highway. What are the options for this place?
There’s a whole generation of Millennials that will soon be making the transition from twenty-something toward marriage, parenthood, and home ownership. Statistically, they will be migrating to suburban homes. But they aren’t necessarily all that keen on the giant house on a remote cul-de-sac like previous generations. They’re going to want some version of a single family home with a garden and a vibrant walkable neighborhood. And it’s going to have to be affordable because Millennials are cash strapped.
This town could become the perfect sweet spot. It’s affordable and it’s closer to town than most exurban development. But Main Street needs a little love. There are two strategies for cultivating that transformation: soft infrastructure and hard infrastructure. My next two posts explore what that process looks like.