Some of you may remember the movie “Jerry McGuire.”  In it, Tom Cruise plays a sports agent sickened by the exploitation of his clients.  He has a crisis of concience, which leads him to write a memo, which morphs into a book on reshaping a more eithical sports management profession, “The Things We Think But Do Not Say.”  It’s core elements are: fewer clients, less money, more personal contact.

The day after printing this document and circulating it at an industry convention, Jerry realizes he’s sabotaged his career and desperately tries to get every copy back.  He’s not successful; as he walks through the lobby of the convention hotel, expecting a stoning, he instead recieves a standing ovation.  Jerry– and the audience — think that people have understood the rightness of his cause.

Then the camera focuses in on two of his co-workers as they applaud him.  “How long before they fire him?” one asks.  “I’ll give him ’til the end of the week” says the other, which turns out to be about right.

In the article “The Suburban Exodus: Are We There Yet?” New Geography writer Wendell Cox makes a compelling case that, despite the message from the design and planning professions that Americans are in the midst of abandoning the suburbs for dense urban neighborhoods, what the preference for — and numbers of — detached housing is actually rising.  Cox sites as a major element of his arguement the failure of condo conversions in multiple urban areas around the country.

In the commentary on this June 4, 2010 article, commentor epar states that Cox’s  conclusions are wrong because he is conflating the failure of the condo market with people’s desires for the urban lifestyle.

Maybe epar is missing the point.  It seems that the credit bubble, as the shrinking cities studio saw in Cleveland, would affect properties in all classes equally.  Homes, condos, etc. would go begging and the effects would be more determined by the credit profiles of a community than their planning/design profiles.  Also, to the extent that the multi-story urban condo is pretty much the antithesis of the mcmansion on the big lot, if people really were rejecting the suburban model this typology would be a strong selection.  Cox’s data indicates that is not the case.  Despite the existence of surveys in which people say they want more urban communities.

Shrinking cities like Cleveland are places that suffer the most from “wishful planning;” design, development and zoning decisions that don’t take a good, hard look at what people really do.  The explosion of condo development is due, at least in part, to the professions’ promotion of this typology as a key example of smart growth.

Is it possible that the built environment professions are engaging in “wishful planning” regarding dense, urban, live-work development?  Is this type of develop even necessary in shrinking cities, when land is often readily available to build suburban-style developments in the urban areas?  Can we afford to promote the ‘best’ typologies and uses, when so many communities just need bodies?

In a recent commentary in Newsweek, Lawrence C. Levy wrote that as a part of the push for healthcare reform, President Obama has “rediscovered” the suburbs, i.e., remembered that many of America’s swing voters live in suburban communities.  Also, that these communities are represent a more complicated and diverse demographic than in previous years.

Levy points out that today’s suburbs have many of the same problems that have been endemic to urban areas for decades.  He also makes the case that suburbs are challenged in solving these problems precisely because of their disconnected nature.

The article  seems to suggest that the administration will refocus their efforts on rebuilding the suburbs, beyond the needs of this particular legislative effort.  How true do you think this is?

Has Obama rediscovered the suburbs?