Tuesday, August 7, 2007
The hoary stereotype of a “suburb” as a uniform, conformist area of mostly white and affluent homeowners needs to be put to rest. In a nation in which most Americans are suburbanites, the makeup of today’s suburbs varies tremendously. One famous old suburb –- Hempstead, N.Y –- is trying to revive its prospects. At one time, Hempstead was a prosperous business and rail center of Long Island, one of the nation’s first 20th century bedroom “suburban” areas. But in the same pattern as in many central cities during the past century, Hempstead has largely been passed by economically in recent decades; its population has also grown more black and Latino. In many senses, Hempstead has more in common with struggling central cites of the east, or with the outer boroughs of New York City, than it does with affluent suburbs further out.
Hempstead’s plan is to use eminent domain to foster construction of an extensive new urbanist development in the middle of the suburb. The idea is to encourage new money, and wealthier people, into the middle of the “village.” In addition to the expense, the plan faces opposition from affordable housing advocates, who see a likely loss of cheap housing stock. But some believe that the suburb has no other choice of halting its long “decline.” Old suburbs, welcome to the problems of “urban” America …