The Great Hollowing Out

11 thoughts on “The Great Hollowing Out”

  1. It’s like I told you last night son. The earth is mostly just a boneyard. But pretty in the sunlight, he added”
    ― Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove

    There was this archaeological dig, in Egypt maybe, where they found twelve cities, each under the next.

    Your generation will plow over my bones and create something new. I didn’t say better, but maybe.

    I lived in Detroit in the 50’s and 60’s GM created 20% of the GNP and that’s not counting Ford, Chrysler and all the other manufacturing. It was wealthy beyond belief. It’s gone, the City is gone.The Great “Hollowing Out?

    You think Silicon Valley will last for ever?

    1. People often assume I’m a doomer. Not so. I just recognize where we are in a great cycle – as you described so very well. Detroit had its day in the sun. It’s already coming back in spots, but smaller and different than the 1950’s version. It’s in a good part of the world with good farmland, plenty of fresh water, and friendly neighbors across the river in Canada. A century from now it will be a far better place to live than Phoenix or Vegas as the great pendulum of history swings. And Silicon Valley is already following the path of the auto industry. Companies that start in the Bay Area rapidly breaking up their divisions and sending lower value work off to Salt Lake and Nashville – if not overseas. Planned obsolescence is even more virulent with computers than cars. Things that used to be done by thousands of human programmers are now done by algorithms. Tick tock. It’s not the end. It’s just the ebb and flow of the world. The trick is to spot the moment when the tide starts to turn and ride the next wave to the better place.

  2. My brother in law lived in $600k plus area in Toms River. He lost the house to the bank. He relocated to James street north of Rt. 37. The area is now predominatly single family renters and is referred to as “the ghetto by the sea”. It’s nasty and noisy.

    1. Ah, yes. Jamestown Village. I know it well. Lots of small two story buildings set in open grassy lawns with shade trees and abundant off street parking – conveniently located near the McDonalds, Burger King, and Auto Zone. Suburbia at its finest. No big bad inner city density around there. No sir. That was made illegal be super smart planners and rigidly enforced codes. Instead it’s all just poverty in a more attractive setting.

  3. …the degree to which an urban spatial system allows for self-organization is highly influenced by its particular configuration of accessibility and land division… For example, it has been shown in both social and natural systems that division of land into discrete plots or parcels (in cities) or patches (in nature) can increase both social and biological diversity…
    (Lars Marcus, “Towards an integrated theory of spatial morphology and resilient urban systems”, 2014 )

  4. Not directly related to your point, but I noticed the section highlighting the self storage location. It seems ironic that in this era of record housing space per person we’re seeing this massive proliferation of self storage locations. One on the main drag very close to my house just enlarged to a second story.

    Of course the huge houses are probably a big driver of the waste; people buy big houses, fill them with stuff, and then realize they don’t really want (or can’t afford) the big house. Just last night I was talking to somebody who owned a really big house out in the Inland Empire. He said he only used about 1/3 of his house. He had rooms he’d planned to use as reading rooms, study rooms, etc. But in reality he just sits down in a chair. And then there’s the 1/year guest rooms where if you work out the effective costs you could have put your guests and yourself in suites at the Ritz-Carlton, and come out ahead.

    1. > It seems ironic that in this era of record housing space per person

      Isn’t it crazy?

      Now a bit of this may actually be driven by re-urbanization; people who live in the city renting cheap storage places out in the ‘burbs. I recently moved by mother into the city from the families’ last rural property – I had to rent a big storage unit to stuff everything into while we sorted it out [this was moving from a rural property with a house, a garage, a green house, a sauna, and four other out-buildings]. I managed to find what I was told was the ONLY available storage unit in the city and I had the option to rent it on-the-spot or not. And just for the equivalent of a small garage with a locked door was $300/mo. I wanted a unit in the city – five minutes from my residence – or else I knew I would never get around to emptying it out [$300/mo is motivation as well].

      An equivalent unit out in the ‘burbs : ~$90/mo. Still plenty for the owner to cost-justify construction. 12 such units is ~$1k a month; and the construction is the cheapest of the cheap.

      A bit of the storage craze may be driven by the aging of the Boomers – who have a LOT of stuff.

  5. Flight to greener pastures didn’t start in 1946, or with the automobile. In many cities, the earliest suburbs were places we now consider “city neighborhoods” because they extended the grid and relied upon streetcars or rail lines. As those places decayed, they were lumped in with the cities they surrounded, if they were not already annexed in.

    And now, with the devolution of downtown professional employment clusters to “multi node” higher-rise suburban office parks (often on cities’ outer belts), people of means keep moving further out because their commute is only 20 or 30 minutes from the urban edge.

    Probably the only “market” solutions aren’t really market solutions. One thing that would change things appreciably is Aaron Renn’s “Mother of All Impact Fees” on new development, which would price in up front the first round of infrastruture expansion, and more nearly balance the costs and benefits of new exurbs…similar to the manner in which a carbon tax would internalize the externalized cost of greenhouse gas emission. The other possible regulation is the UGB…but it can’t have a safety valve as Portland’s does, in the form of a state line right in the middle of the river at the edge of the city.

    Either of these regulations would make decaying first-ring suburban land more valuable for higher and better uses than self-storage and c-stores. But either would face a long, hard road to approval. Perhaps only your home state, or Hawaii, would or could try either one.

    1. Toms River (like almost every other town, city, and state in the country) will never impose an urban growth boundary. Growth is what this town desperately wants more of. Growth will eventually stop all by itself as a result of market forces. Everything has a beginning, middle, and end.

      Impact fees in Toms River have been steadily rising as local authorities realize the negative return on public infrastructure investments, but the fees are still quite small (particularly compared to California where in many locations you need $40,000 to connect to the existing water supply system.) Ironically the low value properties in Toms River are already becoming less economical relative to taxes and fees. A $150,000 tract home built in a mediocre part of town has a harder and harder time justifying up front administrative and development costs. The $1,000,000 plus waterfront homes are unaffected.

      We will never see meaningful fuel taxes of any kind in most locations – certainly not federally administrated carbon taxes. But fuel prices will absolutely rise and make auto-dependent neighborhoods uneconomical for entirely different reasons. My favorite theory involves the Ras Tanura oil terminal in Saudi going up in flames. That would do seriously bad things to the global oil supply that couldn’t be remedied in anything less then several years – assuming the region was stable enough to engage in reconstruction and not bogged down in war. Big if. “Saudi America” and its fracking and oil shale miracle will not rise to the occasion at a price point that will allow all the subdivisions and office parks to continue to hum along as usual. And supply chains for the Targets, Walmarts, and Homedepots will not cope well with fuel supply disruptions.

      External reality will press in and make some locations more desirable while others simply lose value – many on a permanent basis. This is how it’s always been. The task of “saving” many places will be a poor allocation of scarce resources. Migration and adaptation of what’s already built will be the cheaper option.

      1. Sorry, I wasn’t specific…I meant your current home state, California, not New Jersey, as one that might be both inclined and able to impose significant impact fees (not just for water, but for sewers, roads, schools, emergency services, and the public pensions at the tail end of the “growth”) or UGB.

        We agree on your very last sentence, and we both see that as the inevitable result of endless suburban expansion that will, nonetheless, come to an end someday. The question is how long it might take on its own, or whether it will happen absent a system shock; the policy suggestions are just a shortcut that don’t involve a galvanizing external event.

        1. There will be a galvanizing external event – mostly likely some kind of war that disrupts supply chains and exposes the vulnerability of much of what we currently take for granted. After the dust settles there will be a new set of cultural expectations and we’ll go about re-inhabiting what’s already built in more economical ways. The suburbs are perfectly viable, but not as they’re current used.

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