The New Urbanization results in winners and losers…

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In previous post, Downsizing – The waiting game, I alluded to the winners and losers in the new urbanization. This time I decided to delve a bit more deeply into the matter and share some thoughts on the topic generally. This is not about real estate specifically, but more about creating a vision for outlying areas in our towns and cities.

Over the past 10 years, housing preferences have been turned on their head…

Back in the dark ages of 2006, when I was a new agent, suburban neighborhoods were on fire and in-town condos were starting to come into their own.  The most desired suburban homes were in outlying neighborhoods. They had large rolling lawns, plenty of privacy and little to no commercial activity.

10 years later, condos and townhouses in walkable downtowns  that are flying off the shelf and the close-in  (close to town) suburban neighborhoods are the newest market darlings. The screaming popularity of suburbs in outlying areas has waned.  Although prices are rising, these once red-hot areas are not keeping pace with the newly popular downtown and close-in markets.

The benign neglect of suburbia…

15 Kilmer - Larchmont - web- smallWhile builders and local elected officials are honing in on their “core” downtowns, it gets all too easy to put outlying areas on the back burner.

Such a change creates a major shift in resources.  Not so long ago, outlying neighborhoods were town’s crown jewel. Towns and cities were vested in keeping these areas in top form. The residents of these neighborhoods are generally well-heeled and accustomed to getting whatever they need to support their neighborhood.

But slowly, it’s becoming apparent that these areas are no longer a priority. If it doesn’t impact the core, no one seems to care much.  Previously attentive local officials are turning a deaf ear to neighborhood issues as well as downtown access issues.

Not so benign neglect…

In order to understand what I mean about “not-so-benign neglect” we have to take a look at a few real estate issues the impact home values.  If you have an outlying neighborhood that is car-dependent to a vigorous town or city core, it can be a saving grace in terms of appreciation.

However, that saving grace depends on convenient access to the in-town amenities. That means either easy and convenient public transportation to critical downtown areas or convenient parking. The parking or public transportation have to cover popular shopping/dining/entertainment hubs as well as the local Metro-North station. Without this kind of access to in-town amenities, a nearby vibrant urban center becomes almost irrelevant.

For public transportation that last mile is generally the hardest…

For public officials,  the appetite for that last mile of public transportation is tepid at best. Its far easier to keep building up the core areas in-town. Its profitable and it delivers instant gratification. The long-term slog of public transportation to outlying suburbs does not.

Modern urbanization plans tend to want to minimize traffic congestion…

Many urbanization plans seek to limit traffic congestion to the downtown areas. Increasingly, the plans to do so involve taking away parking in order to discourage the use of cars. But if there is no reasonable public  transportation, this leaves the suburban residents out in the cold.

The bottom line here is that municipalities are making plans based on the new urbanization trend. This sometimes means throwing the established outlying suburbs under the bus in favor of the needs of the core. 

This state of affairs unacceptable to modern home buyers…

People seeking to move into single-family homes in the suburbs are often paying $15k – $35k+ a year in property taxes.  From their perspective, access to in town amenities like parking at the train station or in town shopping is quite literally the least their municipality can do.  Commuters are especially touchy about this issue.  They will actually move further up the line. Yes, they face a longer train commute, but that’s easier than slogging through the rain and snow to distant parking lots.

Development and zoning becomes haphazard…

This a problem that impacts downtowns as well as outlying neighborhoods.  Development is great for a downtown area – until it isn’t.  Anything can be overdone if it is not done with care.

For outlying suburbs the issues can become  complicated by the fact that there is generally more open land for developers to exploit.  If not carefully done, the potential for haphazard hot mess is quite high.

What should residents and neighborhood associations do?

I think that it is important for people who live in outlying suburbs and their neighborhoods to be proactive.  Neighborhood associations should encourage a revisiting of the municipality’s comprehensive plan and demand a seat at the table in the process.

Residents of traditional suburban areas are notorious for fighting any and all kinds of new development.  These days, the focus needs to shift from bucolic, to what is actually workable for the modern home buyer. Suburban areas need growth just as much as core commercial areas.

Neighborhood associations and residents need to be proactive not just reactive…

Neighborhood associations need to lead the charge rather than simply respond in protest when inappropriate building plans are hatched by developers. Most of these neighborhoods need to be open to a bit more urbanization and the development of light commerce.  In most cases, mixed use housing should not be a bogey man.  Mixing it up a bit, with a little more density would be healthy for many suburban areas and would permit smart growth without destroying the area with developments that increase traffic but offer little else.

A couple of points to bear in mind for those who insist on no development…

  • Resisting all development is a great way to wind up with something you will really hate. Large undeveloped parcels are an invitation for developers to come in and lobby for massive zoning changes that no one will like.  There is some safety in have some large parcels “off the table” so to speak.
  • If local residents continue to be the party of “no”, scuttling every type of development, good, bad or otherwise, local officials will be more inclined to say ignore residents when a major and truly inappropriate development comes along.

In the end, suburban areas are part of the fabric of our infrastructure and in most cases, they aren’t destined for the scrap heap.  But like our town cores, suburban areas need and deserve attention. But a unique vision needs to be established for each of these neighborhoods and that vision needs to be reflected in the town’s comprehensive plan.

Suburban Silver Lining…

Fisher Hill Neighborhood - White PlainsI’ll end on a positive note.  The new urbanization has produced one big suburban winner. Close-in neighborhoods, those suburban, mixed neighborhoods near downtown areas, are finally getting their due. In many ways, those areas may be the biggest winners in the new urbanization trend. Prior to this shift in preferences, these areas were often the neglected red-headed step child. It is good to see these neighborhoods rise, but that does not offset or justify the neglect that I see in outlying neighborhoods.

© 2016 – Ruthmarie G. Hicks – – All rights reserved.

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