We completed one life cycle of the suburban experiment using a pay-as-you-go approach. As we reached this point—around the mid-1970s—growth in America slowed. Although multiple factors were involved, one significant cause was our suburban cities were now seeing cash outflows for infrastructure maintenance. We’d reached the “long term” and the end of commitment-free money.
Our problem was not, and is not, a lack of growth. Our problem is sixty years of unproductive growth. The American pattern of development does not create real wealth; it creates the illusion of wealth. Today we are in the process of seeing that illusion destroyed and with it the prosperity we have come to take for granted.
It took us a while to work through what to do, but we ultimately decided to go “all in” using debt. In the second life cycle of the suburban experiment, the United States financed new growth by borrowing staggering sums of money, both in the public and private sectors. By the time we crossed into the third life cycle and flamed out in the foreclosure crisis, our financing mechanisms had, out of necessity, become exotic, even predatory.
Excerpted from the Strong Towns Curbside Chat
Chuck Mahron has one of the most logical yet blistering takes on our suburban development pattern out there. The approach that he and the Strong Towns organization take is pragmatic and conservative. If you don't subscribe to the Strong Towns Blog, I highly recommend it.