Tuesday, November 4, 2008
If there were any doubt that the old model of a poor and diverse central city surrounded by affluent white suburbs is now thoroughly outmoded, here’s a fascinating story from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, DC, which have been some of the fastest growing in the nation. In the new century, most of the growth in the outer suburbs, particularly in Prince William County –- once rural, but now in large part suburban –- has been due to the migration of minority residents, who are most often Latino. In Prince William, now nearly half minority, new migrants have found lower prices (and, in too many instances, subprime loans), access to exurban jobs, and, eventually, backlash by more senior residents. Meanwhile, older inner suburbs, such as Alexandria and Arlington, actually saw their percentages of minority residents fall in over the past decade. Why? These areas have become more popular for affluent families and singles who seek ready access to the big city; new and high-priced condo towers and townhouses have sprouted up everywhere. Thus, the Virginia suburbs now resemble the model of many big European cities, in which the inner neighborhoods are prized by the wealthy, while immigrants must settle for the more distant suburbs.
What does this shift mean for land use law? It means that outer suburbs must re-think their exclusionary zoning laws, designed when the idea of a exurb was a sleepy world of homogeneous and affluent citizens. And it means reassessing the relationship between city and suburb, and between suburb and suburb.
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