Incredibly, Detroit has just lured Michigan’s Blue Cross/Blue Shield headquarters from the suburbs to downtown. It’s the best thing to happen to the city since the murder rate dipped below that of some war-torn African nations.
In Chicago, Mayor Daley made United Airlines a deal they couldn’t refuse: Move their one-million-square-foot headquarters from O’Hare Airport to a mammoth new downtown high-rise. Civic leaders celebrated like they did in the Michael Jordan era.
In Manhattan, they leased 2 million square feet of office space this year while the suburbs lost nearly that much. The average New Yorker couldn’t have cared less.
The trend raises an important question: Is this the end of the ’burbs? Has traffic gotten so bad that people can’t drive from their dream homes to their prestigious office parks and palatial malls?
There was only one person with the answer: Dr. John Bearsford Tipton, the Regutnick Chair of Urban Planning at Clinton Online University.
“What’s going on, Dr. Tipton?” I asked. “Is suburban flight a new trend?”
“A new trend?” he sneered. “That may be the dumbest question anyone has ever asked me. What’s your next ultra-current query: Do I think Kramer vs. Kramer will get the Oscar this year?”
I ignored the question.
“The suburbs are so yesterday,” he continued. “A trip to downtown is a major expedition even with a GPS. The expressways are jammed all the time.
“It’s the same in every major market. People get more done on their cell phone and laptops than in their offices. Most of them do it while driving, safety be damned.
“Besides, in today’s economy, it’s not like they have a lot of job choices.”
“I thought there were plenty of jobs in the suburbs,” I responded.
“Yeah, at Chuck E. Cheese,” he said with the heat of a flamethrower.
“I know that housing sales in the cities are picking up, but what about in the suburbs?” I asked
“If the neighborhood is close to a Metro, no problem. But if it’s an hour commute, my advice is sell now and take the loss. Look what happened to Japan over the “lost” decade: They tried to hang on to their homes and the values dropped 80%.”
“What about the American love of the automobile?”
He answered my question with a question.
“Why do you think car sales have been so low? You don’t need a car in the city. Or if you do, you rent a Zip Car.
“The 20-somethings are flocking back to the cities for its lifestyle. The next trend is middle-class families moving closer in rather than farther out. The days of dad driving 75 minutes to work to give his family a big house on a little lot are over. Twenty minutes is OK.”
“Dr. Tipton, if you’re right, we’re going to have a complete reversal of our society. The cities will be bustling while the suburbs will be vast wastelands with thousands of boarded-up houses, vacant office buildings and boarded malls.”
“Exactly,” he said, his tone finally making me feel smarter than Conan the Barbarian. The suburbs are the new downtown Detroit.”
Bill Regardie was the founder and publisher of Regardie’s Magazine.