Country’s sprawl is BANANAs

by Chelle Delaney: Quay County Sun

It looks like the prices of homes are finally collapsing. Could that  be a blessing for the nation? An end to the continuing suburban sprawl? A return to the American Dream?
Here in Tucumcari we’ve been lucky.

Anecdotal evidence shows that people are looking to buy, that many Realtors are looking for listings and the Greater Economic Development Corp. is working to develop 28 lots near the Tucumcari School Administration Building at Eighth Street.
But in most of the country, after World War II, there was a race to the rapidly developing “suburbs.”

Big developments of single homes built on substantial sites of inexpensive land easily reached by the omnipresent automobile fueled by gas at 10 and 20 cents a gallon.

At first, the jobs and the shops remained downtown. But then the shopping centers, surrounded by oodles of parking space, appeared. And the downtown department stores died.

On a lesser scale, but with just as much impact, it appears the same experience occured in Tucumcari. Several large businesses moved out of town, taking jobs with them.

Nationwide, the advent of the office parks came and the jobs began moving out to the suburbs.

Naturally, the children of the  people who lived in the suburbs needed schools, so the schools came out to the suburbs.

Naturally, all of these depended on roads, first highways, then superhighways and the Interstate Highways.  Pretty soon, as Charles Kuralt said, “You could drive from coast-to-coast without seeing anything.”

The process has continued. Often with the houses getting grander and grander and less approachable (gated communities).

And, through the succeeding years, the value of housing, of homes (even in the old neighborhoods) has, amazingly, kept increasing. The homeowners’ investment in the home kept growing and growing.

Could that continue? It seemed to, but the continuation was questioned. And now, the national media have declared that home prices are “collapsing.”

Bad news for homeowners. Good news for prospective homeowners. And, some say, good news for the nation – if the “collapse” reduces the continuing physical expansion of American cities and towns – which has made us a “suburban nation,” a nation dependent on the automobile, which is dependent on gasoline, which is dependent upon oil, which is particularly dependent on undependable areas in the Middle East.

Critics of the stretching out have been preaching for years. Take the book Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream by Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plaer-Zybeck and Jeff Speck. It was published in 2000 but they’d begun their preaching in the early 1990s. And they’ve won converts. The California city of Santa Cruz is campaigning against Duany’s enemy — sprawl.

The book contrasts today’s spread out housing with the way it used to be, cities and towns growing as neighborhoods. With orderly grids of tree-lined  streets, alleys behind the houses to take care of essential utilities, trash pick-up, auto parking, even “grannies” or as the California city of Santa Cruz puts it, ADU’s, Accessory Dwelling Units. In Santa Cruz,    they want  “building-in,”  they want building to take place in the city, they’re campaigning against  “building out.”

But that’s what’s being done today. BANANA.  Or Build Nothing Anywhere Near Anything. Like the Wal-Marts. “Build it and they will come.”

Critics aren’t denying that living in the sprawling suburbs can be pleasant. But  living in an old-style neighborhood is at least as pleasant — and doesn’t depend so much on the automobile.

Can a change come about? The railroads in Albuquerque are an indication that change can come about. And Tucumcari’s effort at infilling with the planned development of 28 lots on Eighth Street – that takes advantage of the existing and surrounding infrastructure – appears to be a smart proposal.
Chelle Delaney is associate publisher for the Quay County Sun. Contact her at 461-1952 or by e-mail: