Friday, April 15, 2005

Suburb to City

As usual when new census data comes out, there are a flurry of stories about places that are seeing explosive growth. For example, the Washington, DC area added 75,000 people last year. Now it also turns out that 14 of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the US are in Florida. That's not so surprising, but the Orlando Sentinel story adds an interesting tidbit: an interview with the owner of a collision repair shop. The carpetbagging businessman (he's from Chicago) chose to locate in exurban Flagler County because its expanding population lacked local services.
"There were 161 body shops in Fort Myers. I am the only collision business in the city limits of Palm Coast," he said. "We have a total of five in the entire county."

Potete said he had a hard time persuading the city to let him in. His argument was that Palm Coast residents shouldn't have to drive 35 miles to get their cars fixed.

"The days of Sleepy Hollow are over," he said. "When you have the people, they need the services."

Re-read that last quote: "when you have the people, they need the services." This gets at a core issue as old as suburbia itself. Every new growth area begins as a subdivision far away from the hustle and bustle of downtown life. Eventually more people move in and for a variety of reasons (not least traffic congestion) it becomes too difficult to go back to the old downtown for food, gas, entertainment. So a new downtown springs up. As in this case, there always seems to be a fight over it, but it's still a constant that the city will eventually follow the people whereever they go.

In my mind, that's the key reason why new urbanism, for all its crankiness and--yes--wishful thinking, is a positive phenomenon. It's the only movement out there right now trying to get people to think beyond the pattern of moving farther out every year, and consider a more integrated solution to building a habitat for ourselves.