McMansion today, tenement tomorrow?

A piece in the latest issue of the Atlantic Monthly looks at a disturbing trend. With foreclosures on the rise and a glut of new homes, suburban decay is upon us. Once-promising new developments are now full of vacancies, squatters, and gangs.

The Atlantic reports that, for the past 60 years, "Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and '70s -- slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay."

While I have sympathy for people who are losing their homes or watching their neighborhoods descend into decay, the decline of the McMansion is something that should be celebrated -- or at least not mourned. With their faux columns, keystones, and arches, these too-big houses on too-small lots are one trend I'm glad to see on the way out, following in the footsteps of disco, mullets, boy bands, and other fads that never should have happened.

In addition, a suburban flight could be good for public health and the environment, as more walking and less reliance on cars gives us more exercise and helps slow global warming. Flight from the suburbs could also lead to a vicious cycle in these neighborhoods: declining property values leading to declining tax revenue leading to declining school quality, one of they key selling points for suburban living. Similarly, increased urban property values could pave the way for some much-needed investment in inner-city schools.

Reading about the decay of some of these once-proud new suburban developments, I'm reminded of one of my favorite poems, Percy Bysshe Shelley's Ozymandias:

And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

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