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Best places to live... if gas were still $1.50

Money has one of those silly rankings of the best places to live in America. Columbia, Maryland is #8; Hunter Mill, Sully, and Burke, Virginia #19, 25, and 31 respectively; Gaithersburg #29, Reston #37, and Rockville #66.

What do they all have in common? These are mostly low-density suburban places a long drive from the central employment areas. The rankings take into account housing prices (which helps Gaithersburg top Rockville) but not fuel costs, even though transportation costs are now higher than housing costs for many auto-dependent suburbs. At least Gaithersburg and Burke have commuter rail; not so for the higher-ranking "best places".

Via Rockville Central. Chart from Reconnecting America.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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For what it is worth Burke does have a VRE station and butt load of park and rides.

by RJ on Jul 16, 2008 8:01 am • linkreport

Thanks; I clarified the post.

by David Alpert on Jul 16, 2008 8:03 am • linkreport

I'd make an incredibly intelligent comment about location efficient mortgages, but I honestly don't know much about them. Maybe some other commenter will enlighten me?

by Michael on Jul 16, 2008 8:28 am • linkreport

Money and Businessweek "Best Cities" lists always seem to love those sorts of places full of gates golf communities and office parks.

by Steve P. on Jul 16, 2008 8:35 am • linkreport

Those pie charts are off, I think. The idea that people pay the same percentage for housing in a city vs. a suburb seems to me a bit of hooey. I do agree with Steve P. that these Money surveys are a bunch of crap.

by MarkM on Jul 16, 2008 9:39 am • linkreport

"Best places to live" if you're in the same demographic and have the same values as the magazine editors.

Otherwise, not so much.

by BeyondDC on Jul 16, 2008 9:41 am • linkreport

Actually the list was America’s best SMALL cities. So places like DC, NY, and SF with great transit are too big to be considered. Excellent schools were major criteria and that pretty much excludes places like DC, NY, Chicago, Detroit, LA etc.

The sad thing is that you must choose between good transit and good schools (if you have kids) and that should not have to be a choice, but it is now. Portland has both, but maybe it was too big for the list.

by Adams Morgan on Jul 16, 2008 9:42 am • linkreport

The difference is that for your 32% in the city you get a one or two bedroom apartment, for the same ammount in Gaithersburg you get a 4 bedroom house and a back yard. For younger people or couples without kids the city is great, but I think most people want a back yard and their own (read: detached) house when they have kids. Thus the "best" places are always in the suburbs.

by Local on Jul 16, 2008 9:50 am • linkreport

Arlington has good schools and good transit. Bethesda and Silver Spring have good schools and good transit.

As for children... a house with a lawn might be better for toddlers, but once kids get to be about 8 or 9 they need some level of independence. In the suburbs they're stuck until they hit 16. In the city they can move around as much as an adult. Suburbs are NOT good places for teens and preteens.

by BeyondDC on Jul 16, 2008 10:25 am • linkreport

Great post by David. $1.50 a gallon for gas communities are no longer as economical as they were once perceived.

Is the question "best places for families with children to

live"? If so, certainly places like DC have challenges providing good public schools. But our society is changing dramatically. Families with children make up a declining share of households today -- by 2025, 28%, down from 48% in 1960. 72% will be households without children. This new majority wants more urban places, but we arent providing enough of them. Come to our forum "Growing Cooler" -- smart growth's role in addressing climate change, on July 28, email: info (at) smartergrowth.net

See Growing Cooler publication at:

http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/gcindex.html

by Cheryl Cort on Jul 16, 2008 10:30 am • linkreport

Fix the schools and the cities will be better places to live for children and families. If the schools are fixed, I think the crime will drop and from there, things will be better. But as long as the schools are bad, the idea of being independent as a youth in the city and all of that really doesn't hold much water to parents raising kids. It's the main reason that my parents moved us from the inner city to an older, east-coast inner burb, that still happens to be urban, and now that I'm older I understand the compromise.

Although this list doesn't mean much, at the very least, most of these places are still older, w/ the exception perhaps of the farther flung places, that there is a semblance of a neighborhood. For the most part, there are local pools, sidewalks, townhomes as well as detached homes on qtr. acre or less lots, and with decent services. I know there are areas of all of these places w/ true mcmansions and I'm not talking about those. But you do go to some of the newer places being built lately and there are no sidewalks even, no street lights, big lots, and people are flocking to these places, there's not even a pretense of a neighborhood. So, this list could be a lot worse. And from a transportation and pedestrian standpoint, they all pretty much suck. They're all boring and ordinary suburban areas that won't provide an adolescent or young adult w/ anything particularly exciting or unique.

by Vik on Jul 16, 2008 10:55 am • linkreport

2 points:

1 - If you want good public transportation, good schools and close proximity to a major employemnt center, I would suggest moving to Arlington County. Arlington is, by and large, built around Metro, has a good bus system, and some of the best schools in the region. Further, besides being an employment center in its own right, it is close in proximity to DC. Of course, its not on the list, as it is likely considered DC Lite by the editors at Money.

2 - People are too deeply discounting Reston. Like Arlington, it is an employment center, with large offices, or HQs, of Oracle, Microsoft, Sprint, Northrop, Lockheed, SAP, SI, Rolls-Royce, etc. Further, public transport around and in/out of Reston is decent, with express busses travelling non-stop to WFC metro leaving every 15 minutes from two different locations. The schools in Reston are part of FCPS, which year-on-year earns high marks from just about everyone. Last, the Town Center provides a host of activities for young and old alike.

People in DC, in general, judge a lot of places and things without having experienced them, or at least getting their facts straights beforehand.

by Tom Swift on Jul 16, 2008 11:24 am • linkreport

Suburbs are NOT good places for teens and preteens.

And Anacostia is?

by monkeyrotica on Jul 16, 2008 11:34 am • linkreport

Yeah, those Reston schools are so good that people are going to court to prevent their kids from being redistricted to South Lakes:

http://www.wtopnews.com/?nid=600&sid=1434102

by alexandrian on Jul 16, 2008 12:02 pm • linkreport

A quick thought - I specifically chose to live in Burke b/c of its transit options. 2 mile drive to VRE from my house; able to walk to Metrobus to take to Franconia-Springfield; Only 10 minute drive to F/S Metro. 5 minute walk to park and ride, and while parts of it certainly are low-density, Burke has loads of townhouses and apartment units, many of which are quick walk to retail. Obviously it's not like Arlington, but it's also not like Ashburn or Sterling.

by PTO'd on Jul 16, 2008 12:04 pm • linkreport

I'm going to have to disagree that suburbs are a bad place to raise kids. There is no way I would want to raise an eight year old in Columbia heights - Sorry, just not going to happen. I imagine a lot of people will agree with me. Also suburbs with a lot of kids are excelent places for 8-10 year olds to grow up because there is plenty of social and sports interaction and (probably most importantly) parents don't have to worry about crime and can just let their kids go.

by Local on Jul 16, 2008 12:09 pm • linkreport

alexandrian - That case is as much about xenophobia and assumptions on behalf of parents as it is actually about the quality of education their children would receive.

Having lived in Herndon for a quarter century, since it was a 1-traffic light town of 2,500 people, and now resding in Reston for the last 5 years, I am confident in saying that your understanding of the issue is cursory, in relative terms, at best.

Did you know...Bruce Butler, the principal of South Lakes, was previously a Vice Principal of Herndon High for nearly a decade? As such, the parents railing against South Lakes and wanting to keep their kids at Herndon have Bruce to thank for the favorable educational environment at Herndon due to changes he implemented while an administrator there? Funny how that works....

by Tom Swift on Jul 16, 2008 12:16 pm • linkreport

Tom--you are probably right about South Lakes, although I suspect it is also about athletic programs in white-kid sports and football. But that's the reality of how people pick schools.

I just think it's funny that the perception of Reston within Northern Virginia tends to be so different than the perception from outside.

by alexandrian on Jul 16, 2008 12:58 pm • linkreport

It amuses me have off people perception of crime is. All these comments about not wanting kids to run around unsafe urban neighborhoods. I would be willing to bet most people reading this ran around neighborhoods in their childhood that statistically were a lot less safe then many of todays urban neighborhoods.

by nathaniel on Jul 16, 2008 1:01 pm • linkreport

Alexandrian - Bruce Butler was also the assistant athletic director at Herndon for a period of time while an administrator there. So again, people wanting their kids to stay at Herndon for the sports would be just as fallacious an argument as them wanting to stay there for the academics. There is a good reason that Bruce was moved to South Lakes to be principal, and a large part of that reasoning was his impact on athletics, academics and social environment while at Herndon.

I'm not being contrary or comabative, just more fully informing you of the reality of the situation.

It is a shame that people pick places to live on stereotypes and demographics, because suburban DC has many excellent areas to live in, despite the overall stigma or demographics of a particular zip code. I'm sure we could both come up with a list of places in Alexandria that people think are bad, but are actually quite nice just the same.

by Tom Swift on Jul 16, 2008 1:10 pm • linkreport

Tom--are they even moving kids from Herndon to South Lakes? I thought it was Westfield, Oakton, and Madison that was being redistricted to South Lakes.

The FCPS website seems to agree with me:

http://www.fcps.edu/news/boundary2.htm

by alexandrian on Jul 16, 2008 1:19 pm • linkreport

It amazes me how afraid of crime people are, when statistically suburbanites are more likely to get hurt or killed in a car accident than urbanites are to get hurt or killed by crime.

I don't want my future family living in carland because I don't want them at such high risk of dying in a car accident.

But nobody seems to think that's important.

by BeyondDC on Jul 16, 2008 1:28 pm • linkreport

BeyondDC:

Your statistics may very well be right. The point is that all other things being equal, people will want to live where is more space for them and their family (to a point of course), even taking risks to get there. This was very easily seen when the price of gas was 1/4 of the price it is now. As you reduce the price of transportation, you'll get more and more people living in the Suburbs. They will even sacrafice their time comuting for more space. So when you raise the price of Gas you FORCE them to move closer to the urban areas against their better inclinations. So while the rise in gas prices may change behavior, inducing people to live closer and closer to the city they don't like it. It isn't in most people's nature to want to live in overly dense urban areas, and the past explosions of suburbs shows this.

by Local on Jul 16, 2008 1:49 pm • linkreport

I think by far the most important factors on average are schools, crime, and price. Schools and crime are tied IMO, but you have to factor in price. You may be more likely to die in a car accident, but with crime, it costs less to live in a safe neighborhood in the suburbs than in the city, relatively speaking and that's the main point when it comes to crime. We know that there are safe areas of the city, but to live there, it's expensive for the most of us at this point. Not all cities are like this though. And when you add in taxes into all of this, it makes the 'burbs more attractive. Not everyone is an urbanist, to some people, it's only moderately important that they live in a vibrant urban environment.

That's why it's good in an urban way in the 'burbs and develop the transit systems.

by Vik on Jul 16, 2008 2:01 pm • linkreport

Local,

You could just as easily argue it the other way. All other things being equal, people will want to live where there is lively community and walkable neighborhood shops (to a point of course), even taking risks to get there. This was very easily seen before we built freeways and cities declined. As you increase the safety of cities and quality of schools, you'll get more and more people living in the cities. They will even sacrifice some amount of outdoor backyard space for a shorter commute and a better neighborhood. So when you build roads and stop investing in cities you FORCE them to move to distant exurbs against their better inclinations. So while 50 years of public spending on freeways may change behavior, inducing people to drive farther and farther to find a safe home they can afford, they don't like it. It isn't in most people's nature to want to drive for hours every day to and from work and live in isolation from their neighbors, and the high property values in cities of people wanting to move back shows this.

The fact is that people should have a choice. I'm not saying nobody should live in Reston or even Sully. But lots of families even with children are moving to cities; as the most extreme example, Manhattan is full of families despite stratospheric housing costs and small apartments. Lots of families live in DC too. But we have so few walkable neighborhoods that it's too expensive and most people can't choose that even if they want to. We need more of them, so that people who want to live in the city can afford it and people who want a big yard at the expense of a long commute can choose that too.

We should also build more mixed-use communities like Reston, though ideally a little closer in. We need quick rail transit to connect those to each other and the center city. And we should stop clinging to the cultural meme that a "best place to live" is necessarily one with picket fences and long drives to work. Reston (and Arlington and Silver Spring) should be ahead of Hunter Mill and Sully (though I will admit I have never been to Hunter Mill or Sully).

by David Alpert on Jul 16, 2008 2:05 pm • linkreport

BeyondDC-

Where do you get those statistics from?

I read the crime reports in the Post every Thursday; for muggings/robberies in and around Adams Morgan / Mt. Pleasant / Columbia Heights where I live, walk, and go out there are about 20 per week. Your chance of getting shot in NE or SE is quite a bit higher than getting run over by a car in Reston.

by Adams Morgan on Jul 16, 2008 2:08 pm • linkreport

As far as people wanting to live where there are walkable neighborhood shops, I feel like the mindset of the baby boom generation was such that they would rather put their lives in their own hands (read: cars) as opposed to leaving someone or something else to guide it (i.e. mass transit). Being in my mid-20's, I do not feel like that mindset is as prevalent in my peers as much as it may have been for my parents' generation. It seems like control issues played a big part in the development of post-WWII suburbs.

by CKD on Jul 16, 2008 2:31 pm • linkreport

Adams Morgan: http://www.virginia.edu/topnews/releases2002/lucy-april-30-2002.html

The Post doesn't report every car accident because car accidents are so common. They aren't news the way crime is news. Unlike crime, people seem to accept death-by-car-accident as an unavoidable part of modern life. But it isn't. It isn't at all.

Local:

People don't inherently want suburbs. People follow the path of least resistance. The fact that other first world countries are much more urban than the United States, and that even places like Canada and Australia are comparatively urban, proves that it has more to do with policies, subsidies and costs than any real choice. Most people just go where everyone else goes.

Having a yard is great if you have a 5 year old, but a 15 year old has other needs. I accept that suburbs are good for some portion of the population, but I adamantly reject that they are as good as people think they are, and are flat out bad for many segments of the population.

by BeyondDC on Jul 16, 2008 2:36 pm • linkreport

Blanket statements about your chances of being victimized by violent crime versus your chances of being hurt/killed in a car accident seem pretty useless as both are going to be heavily dependent on a specific individual's behavior.

FWIW, "Sully" is Chantilly and Centerville, and "Hunter Mill" is a swath of land from Vienna west to Dulles. Not sure why they're referring to Fairfax County Magisterial Districts as if they were towns.

by alexandrian on Jul 16, 2008 2:39 pm • linkreport

alexandrian: Thanks for clarifying. That explains why I had never heard of those places.

I assume that Money got a bunch of census data and stuff, which for Fairfax was divided up that way, and ran their little formula on it—a formula that was already biased in favor of certain factors that correlate with the "ideal" suburb.

by David Alpert on Jul 16, 2008 2:56 pm • linkreport

It's a fallacy and myth that the tax burden is highest to live in DC. http://blog.washingtonpost.com/rawfisher/2008/01/who_pays_more_taxes_virginia_m.html

Local and others: There may be a lot of people to agree with you that Columbia Heights is a bad place for an 8 y.o., but there is also a whole lot of people who will DISAGREE with you. Please, speak for yourself.

by Bianchi on Jul 16, 2008 3:00 pm • linkreport

About the perception of crime: I was once in a discussion where someone talked about walking his Rottweiler at 7:30 am in Friendship Heights, and was asked whether it was safe to be on the streets.

by Ben Ross on Jul 16, 2008 3:05 pm • linkreport

Local,

I have to pick up on something David said, and that is choice. The way land-use/zoning laws work, there is little to no chance to find any affordable new construction of any decent density anywhere. So you end up with the crappy choices that Tom Swift touched on - schools or short commute time.

Because there are so few places that have both options, they are wicked expensive (G'town, Bethesda, Arlington, etc). We have counties that limit the number of residential construction permits because they don't want to pay for the schools. The land in these counties is overwhelmingly zoning for single family residential. So now you've got a limited number constructions permits going mostly to individual homeowners (yeah, your county gov't's zoning laws help to create a false housing bubble). That combination will not build density.

This, in turn, pushes people further out to the cheap land and ridiculous zoning of the next county, who think the growth is great until they have to start building the schools, etc. and so on. The housing might be cheap and available, but this eliminates any chance with public transit/a resonable commute.

So these sets of laws screw anyone who wants good schools and resonable transit, and resonable density. It leaves only one affordable housing choice (up until $4.00/gal gas), the suburbs/exurbs. Until we get the land-use laws changed, or once Fenty cleans up DC Schools, this is a forced choice we have to deal with.

by MarkM on Jul 16, 2008 3:22 pm • linkreport

All told, if you live in Montgomery County and make $75,000 a year, you face the biggest tax burden in the region, at $8,469. Prince George's comes in second at $8,408. The remaining jurisdictions are bunched closely together at a considerably lower price: D.C., $6,986, Fairfax, $6,903, Arlington, $6,886 and city of Alexandria, $6,769.

So I'm saving $83 and I don't have to live in DC? Cool! I guess my next tank of gas is on the DC gummint!

by monkeyrotica on Jul 16, 2008 3:25 pm • linkreport

David,

I understand that for some people (like myself) urban life is best, but your example is circular, flawed, and most likely proves my point. The building of freeways and the advent of easy auto travel simply removed a barrier to living where people wanted. The cities declined not because we took money away from them to build freeways, but because most people who could afford to leave did so. Perhaps after a lot of people left, because they wanted to, economic conditions forced more out and it created a self-perpetuating cycle. It didn’t get this way because people wanted “walkable neighborhoods” it got this way because people wanted out, the American Dream, white picket fence etc etc.

I'm all for giving the people a choice of where they want to live, but it seems (and I may be wrong) that most people in this country would rather live in a suburban setting.

To BeyondDC,

The statement that people simply follow the "Path of least resistance" is extremely arrogant. People live the way they want to and because it is the most comfortable to them. And yes, if you make an easy path to the way people want to live, they will take it. The point is, they are not sheep, and the elitist, nanny-knows-best attitude is one of the reasons that there is so much resistance to the planning movement.

by Local on Jul 16, 2008 3:36 pm • linkreport

Much of it had to do with white flight, i.e. racism. What a lovely landscape of sprawly hell it has left us with, too.

by NikolasM on Jul 16, 2008 3:40 pm • linkreport

Local: Yeah, some people wanted picket fences. Other people wanted to get away from all the Puerto Ricans. Other people went out there because all their friends were going out there.

But as time went on, we kept encouraging it with public spending. Cities got less money, so the schools got worse. We build freeways right through thriving neighborhoods, crushing property values and forcing people out. Wealthy enclaves kept their tax money for themselves and were able to spend it on better services for their wealthier residents; states used their tax revenue to build water and electric infrastructure way out to distant suburbs, saving people from paying the cost of their living choices while people in cities kept having to pay more than the cost of theirs.

Sure, if everyone had a personal supersonic jet and we had infinite tropical islands, many people would choose to live on their own tropical island and fly to work. But many people wouldn't. Now, if the government gave everyone a free jet, but people in cities had to pay the cost of maintaining airports for all the island dwellers, many people would pick the island even though, all other things being equal, they'd rather live in town and visit the islands only on weekends.

by David Alpert on Jul 16, 2008 4:25 pm • linkreport

Query: what's considered low density? Fairfax, which Burke is good example of, has over a million people in 399 square miles- or 2,500 persons per square mile. I believe denser than any state of the union. So how is that low density. Of course DC is (only?) three time more as dense but by and large, Fairfax does not have "low density."

by Raoul on Jul 16, 2008 4:44 pm • linkreport

Nope, David, people live the way they want to live. That's why most American suburbia looks like this:

http://www.kunstler.com/eyesore_200601.html

Nothing to do with the unintended consequences of poorly thought-out public policy.

by ibc on Jul 16, 2008 4:47 pm • linkreport

I think it's both policy and people. We have such a fucked up society right now between our consumerism and economy.

by Vik on Jul 16, 2008 5:36 pm • linkreport

Cities got less money, so the schools got worse.

DC consistently spends more per child than any school district in the nation, yet consistently scores last in math and verbal skills. Non-english-speaking children in Guam score higher than DC 5th graders. Many factors contribute to the decline in urban public education. Two decades of increased an nual spending for DC public schools have very little to show for it.

by monkeyrotica on Jul 16, 2008 8:12 pm • linkreport

I grew up in a low-density suburban subdivision. It sucked. That's a big part why I'm now a transit/smart growth activist.

I remember my dad teaching me how to throw a baseball in the backyard and stopping my shots on goal as I abandoned baseball and took up soccer. It was nice, when he was up for it. However, if he was not up to it... man was I stuck. I remember middle and early high school more. Man was I stuck. I couldn't go anywhere without a driver's license and my dad was always on the internet (it was the '90s so we had dial-up) so I never could talk on the phone. Man was I stuck... all the damn time.

Suburbia is great if you're an adult with control-freak tendencies. For others, (like my parents) it was what was available and affordable when they bought the house. For a kid who actually grew up there, it sucked. Most boomers grew up in an urban neighborhood or a town. Few grew up in suburbia. My mom grew up in a leafy pre-war suburban town in Northern NJ where she could bike to anywhere she wanted. My dad grew up in the city of Pittsburgh where there were kids galore in the neighborhood and he could walk/bike/streetcar to anywhere he wanted. It never occured to them that their mobility as children/adolescents should not have been taken for granted. Then again, they had no choice. When they bought their house in 1980, there were no other choices... they could have gotten a house in a greenfield subdivision or an already built subdivision. They chose the greenfield so they could use a custom plan that enabled them to heat their house through passive solar energy.

To say that "suburbia is better for kids" is just silly. Also, to say it was a choice for most from 1960-2005 is also just silly. These are both slogans from 1950's/1960's GM promotions in order to sell an environment that would guarantee them profits in perpetuity. We now see how well that worked out. GM is gonna go under because of their obsession with SUV's and inability to read the auto market. Our cities are finally coming back after years of neglect and cynicism. We don't have enough walkable space to accomodate the demand for it. And, even more sadly, we now face a huge Global Warming problem. To top it all off, by making us dependent on autos, we chose to be dependent on gasoline. That addiction has now become a loaded gun pointed at our nation's collective head. We keep exporting dollars to countries that hate us so we can buy their oil. Our trade deficit is higher than ever, largely due to oil prices. Finally, as we slide further and further into debt and recession, our ability to outbid others for oil will decrease.

We need a diversified transportation system. We need more walkable spaces to make transit more feasible. To say anything else is deluding yourself, and selling out our nation.

by Cavan on Jul 16, 2008 8:19 pm • linkreport

As they say, there are lies, lies, and statistics.

It is incorrect to say that Gaithersburg is low-density. The population per square mile in Gaithersburg is 5,847, which compares favorably with Washington and Arlington. My neighborhood, Kentlands, is built at a density of 10,266 per square mile if you include the commercial districts and 12,828 per square mile if you exclude the commercial districts. Gaithersburg (and Rockville, for that matter) is criss-crossed by bus lines that take those who commute into DC to MARC and Metro. Those who commute to DC are a very small percentage of the population, though. Rockville and Gaithersburg have become huge employment centers and most who live in these cities commute to work, entertainment, and shopping within Montgomery County, in or near these cities.

by Richard on Jul 16, 2008 9:07 pm • linkreport

Cavan:

I agree that sometimes the suburbs are simply the only thing you can afford. Many of us simply cannot afford to live (or live comfortably) in the city with whatever we may earn through our job(s).

Just to kind of throw out a wildcard factor in all of this; does anyone feel that recent immigrants to America from less wealthy nations (say within the past 10 years) prefer the so-called "American Dream" because it is a sort of promised land in their eyes? Maybe the built-up urban environment reminds them of the homeland they left behind, or maybe they just want a taste of what it is like to own a big house with multiple cars and bedrooms?

I say this because I am a Chinese-American, and I get the sense from my parents that they decided to raise me in the suburbs because they felt it was what America is all about, that it was the opposite of the plain, undecorated, cramped, hard urban life they encountered growing up.

by CKD on Jul 16, 2008 9:17 pm • linkreport

CKD,

Perhaps there is some truth to wanting the opposite of what you had when you were growing up.

I tend to focus on the emptiness and boredom of car-dependent suburbia (Richard did point out that suburb does not equal car-dependent as I live in Wheaton and take transit everywhere and work downtown at McPherson Sq. Metro). I see it as soulless and selfish and greedy. However, my parents see it as peaceful and quant and secluded. I see cities as alive and cosmopolitan and social. I don't think it's coincidental that my parents and my views are sorta opposite and that we also grew up in sorta opposite conditions.

To be fair, suburbia was where it was at when our parents were young adults. If you were a boomer in the '70s and '80s buying a house, you just weren't cool unless you were in suburbia. Obviously, that view is in the process of changing.

Social preferences aside, you can't escape the whole energy problem with suburbia. I guess it was great (for some) while it lasted. However, with Peak Oil looming, I'm afraid that horse left the barn when gasoline hit $4/gal. I rant and rave against auto dependent environments as a basis of economic and environmental waste. I recognize my personal bias towards urban social environments. However, I realize that my lifestyle preferences are far, far less important than the physical and economic realities our nation finds itself in. I don't think that my parents or your parents were bad parents because we were raised in auto-dependent environments. (I guess we both turned out ok, and isn't that the definition of good parenting?) I just think that they're just not practical anymore and will soon be economically and environmentally unfeasible. It's time that we move on and build more suburbs like Arlington and Bethesda and Silver Spring and Hyattsville and Wheaton and Reston and stop building ones like Olney or Germantown or Woodbridge.

by Cavan on Jul 16, 2008 10:21 pm • linkreport

1)"The conventional wisdom is that the District spends more money per student than any other school system in the country. This oft-repeated assertion is baseless. Indeed, although DCPS enrolls a far higher percentage of students with special educational needs, such as low-income students (64%), than surrounding school districts like Arlington (36%), Alexandria (47%), Fairfax (19%) and Montgomery (23%), the District spends less per student than most of its neighbors. The District spends over $3,800 less per student than Arlington, $2,100 less per student than Alexandria, $500 less than Montgomery County, and only $500 more than Fairfax County, where the percentage of low-income students is less than one-third of that enrolled in District schools." http://www.dcpswatch.com/parents/pu0503.htm#9 and http://www.fcps.edu/fs/budget/wabe/2005.pdf

2)Additionally, costs for new school construction (acquiring land, etc) are not figured into total per student spending. If they were, the figure in DC's outer suburbs would be much higher than is reported in US Census documents.

3) Related to the above, DC and older inner suburbs have older schools which require much greater capital costs for maintainance than newer schools in farther out sububrs. Because of this, more money is required per student for fixing things. Consequently a higher proportion of the per student spending in DC (as repoted by US census)goes to the buildings rather than to things like teacher salaries and student enrichment programs when compared to districts with new schools. http://www.realizethedream.org/

Alphamama has a good discussion of 'burb vs. city w/kids: http://www.alphamom.com/wonderland/2008/06/the_city_or_the_suburbs_which.php

by Bianchi on Jul 16, 2008 11:02 pm • linkreport

1) DCPS regularly classifies students as "special ed" then foists them off onto court-mandated private schools. This accounts for much of the additional costs associated with DCPS's budget. And the figures cited do not include transportation or the tens of millions in Federal funds contributed and misued by DCPS. Moot point anyway. One would think that a billion-plus-dollar school budget would have some accountability built in. DC has yet to implement anything resembling this.

As for the accusation that city expats are xenophobic, just because people don't want to be around loud, obnoxious, drunken jerks with no sense of decency or decorum, that doesn't make them racists. Maybe they just don't want to live around GWU students or Adams Morgan any more.

by monkeyrotica on Jul 17, 2008 5:59 am • linkreport

yes no one can dispute there are problems with DCPS. There are a lot of people working hard to make a positive impact, too. And there are many successes. One of the points of the current discussion is that the transportation infrastructure (built and paid for with tax money) so often thwarts the desire of people like me (I know I am not alone) to leave the car behind. Take a look at the discussion on alphamom (link above). It's a thoughful discussion of individual experiences. Most of the people in 'burbs cite "driving everywhere" as the thing they don't like. Why should they be forced to drive everywhere? There could be a better transportation system that allows more freedom of choice. That's the point.

by Bianchi on Jul 17, 2008 10:09 am • linkreport

The cultural nostalgia many suburbanites feel for small towns, and the nearly endless parade of suburbs that try to act like small towns, is proof positive that very large numbers of suburbanites hate the suburbs.

Go out to Fairfax and ask those folks if they think Route 50 is a quality built environment. Virtually none of them will tell you they think it is, and yet not only do they live there, they enact laws requiring more of that sort of development.

There is some segment of the population that loves suburban life. No doubt about it, and more power to them. But to deny that vast numbers of people follow the path of least resistance is simply wrong. They do, whether it's an elitist statement or not.

by BeyondDC on Jul 17, 2008 10:31 am • linkreport

I find it incredibly depressing that people spend their time worried about violent urban crime or getting in a car accident. Life is far too short for this.

by monkeyrotica on Jul 18, 2008 6:15 am • linkreport

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