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Key Magazine: Unlocking Urban Realities?

This past weekend saw the latest edition of the New York Times’s Key magazine. Usually a source of real estate porn, the magazine usually looks at the froth in the housing market and winks. With the exception of a piece about a company that tends to magnates’ private wineries, the latest issue was decidedly sober. More details in today’s featured commentary by Next American City editor Diana Lind.

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In The Boomtown Mirage, Samantha M. Shapiro explores the astounding growth of Maricopa, Arizona. The town, which barely existed four years ago, now features 14,000 new houses, many of which are uninhabited and some of which are subject to foreclosure. Shapiro’s piece illustrates the perfect problem that’s created by the combination of easy money, overdevelopment, and first-time buyers. But her piece smacks of disdain for the exurban population.

She writes,“I rented a house in Rancho El Dorado for my weeklong stay in Maricopa. I figured it would be a good way to meet people… It was a four-bedroom house, located on the golf course at the end of a cul-de-sac. It had a dishwasher, a three-car garage, an office and a laundry room, all for about half the rent of my one-bedroom third-floor walk-up with crooked floors in Brooklyn. Although it was exciting to experience features you don’t often see in New York apartments, like the “great room” and the “media room,” it was kind of spooky being in a giant house with no furniture. Once the sun went down, the street was very dark and very quiet; the blank faces of empty houses were only occasionally lit by garage lights. There was nowhere to go and no one on the street.”

Of course, this kind of life isn’t ideal. But what Shapiro doesn’t seem to address in her piece is that many people don’t have the opportunity to live in a one-bedroom in Brooklyn, or even in Phoenix. Most people Shapiro’s age have families they need to support and need space to house them. These kinds of towns aren’t anyone’s top choice, but rather the best way of making do.

-image courtesy of Key Magazine

David Leonhardt’s personal essay, “Holding On,” argues that the ultimate luxury in life is choice of where and how to live. His essay, which I highly recommend, suggests that major cities haven’t suffered from the current housing bust as much because, despite the supposed irrelevance of location (see Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat), major cities have high concentrations of ideas.

Leonhardt explains his thesis here: “’[Cities have] always had the advantage of making the movement of people easier, the movement of goods easier and the movement of ideas easier.’ What has changed over the last few decades, Glaeser says, is that good ideas — be they in finance, entertainment, technology — have become much more valuable. The best ones can be turned into products that are soon being sold all over the world, thanks to globalization, FedEx, the Internet and a host of other forces. But it’s still much easier to come up with a good idea when you are surrounded by a lot of other people working on the same problems as you are.”

Having resided in New York City for almost a decade, Leonhardt is moving to the suburbs of Washington, D.C. Although he doesn’t comment on what kind of ideas are floating around there.

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Diana Lind is the former executive director and editor in chief of Next City.

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Tags: real estatebrooklynsuburbs

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