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Dallas Morning News columnist Jacquielynn Floyd decided she would talk to Robert Puentes, the Brookings Institute speaker that was recently in Plano, to learn more about First-Ring suburbs.
Ms. Floyd points out that, "We have a lot of first suburbs, places like Richardson, Duncanville, Irving, Farmers Branch and Garland. They're not urban centers – but they're not the exuberant, wealthy, fast-growing neo-burgs they once were, either."
She seems to think that Mr. Puentes may know what he is talking about. He co-wrote a report this year that "grabbed a lot of attention, at least at the policy-wonk level."
"The report says (note link to PDF) that one-fifth of all Americans now live in 'first suburbs' and that these cities—contrary to popular belief—are more diverse than the nation as a whole. As of 2000, nearly a third of all the immigrants to this country were living in such cities." The report also references Lucy and Phillips, and Hudnut, whose writings were previously referenced here and are available at the Garland libaries.
In a synopsis report, Mr. Puentes and Bruce Katz say, "On the federal level, Sen. Clinton and Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) have introduced the Suburban Core Opportunity, Restoration and Enhancement Act in the Senate and House. This bill would set aside $250 million for first suburbs nationwide to help fund reinvestment and revitalization projects."
Garland is one of those suburbs that has changed over the last few decades. We've inherited more challenges and accumulated more assets. Our future will depend on how we focus our attention, set our priorities, and how long we take to get going.
Stereotypes Don't Fit First Suburbs
08:05 AM CDT on Friday, October 13, 2006
We all know what the suburbs are like, right?
They're the place where you move when you get married and start a family and want to be close to Ikea, the place where the hippest joint in town is a Starbucks. They're bland, tidy, predictable, kid-centric and as white as Wonder Bread.
Never mind that this description isn't much more than a shallow stereotype: For a growing number of suburban cities, it has been obsolete for 30 years.
This is the message a guy named Robert Puentes brought to town this week when he addressed an audience of city planners and elected officials in Plano.
He was there because sprawling Plano, which is still stuck in a lot of our heads as the cutting edge of suburban development, is fast maturing into what he calls a "first suburb."
We have a lot of first suburbs, places like Richardson, Duncanville, Irving, Farmers Branch and Garland. They're not urban centers – but they're not the exuberant, wealthy, fast-growing neo-burgs they once were, either.
"There's still a perception that the people there are all white families, and that's not the case," Mr. Puentes told me. "These 'first suburbs' have changed in a way a lot of people don't recognize."
I wanted to follow up on Mr. Puentes' visit to Plano because he has an important message. He's a senior fellow for the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution – a think-tank scholar, in short – so he isn't really the type to run yodeling through the streets.
It might not hurt if he were, though, because a lot of people need to wake up to the reality that these communities are changing fast enough to make your head spin.
Their minority, elderly and low-income populations are growing at a faster clip than the national average – in some cases, faster than in the urban centers they surround. It's getting harder for them to attract high-quality development. Their neighborhoods are aging – sometimes to graceful maturity, sometimes to seedy dilapidation.
Mr. Puentes co-wrote a report earlier this year that grabbed a lot of attention, at least at the policy-wonk level.
The report says that one-fifth of all Americans now live in "first suburbs" and that these cities – contrary to popular belief – are more diverse than the nation as a whole. As of 2000, nearly a third of all the immigrants to this country were living in such cities.
The latter fact is borne out in local communities: Farmers Branch, where an angry debate over banning illegal immigrants broke out recently; Richardson, where some schools struggle to meet the needs of student populations that speak dozens of languages; Irving, which recently joined a list of cities that conduct a "citizens' police academy" in Spanish.
In Plano, Mr. Puentes recommended that the first suburbs consider establishing higher-density "urban centers" with mixed-use development and access to public transportation.
His suggestions weren't universally popular.
"Hogwash!" one reader wrote to my colleague Jake Batsell, who covered Mr. Puentes' address. "I don't understand why there needs to be population growth at all."
But the debate isn't entirely about the change that's coming – in many instances, it's already here. Mr. Puentes is actually pretty complimentary about "first suburb" city leaders as a whole. They tend to be serious, well-educated and more cognizant than anybody else of the challenges their communities face.
Some of the rest of us, though, are either blinded by nostalgia ("It's not your father's suburb anymore," Mr. Puentes is fond of saying) or by not paying attention. Somehow, these towns are falling into a black hole in the public consciousness, where it's assumed that state and federal resources for social and infrastructure programs, and the need for redevelopment, are automatically limited to the inner cities.
Experts like Mr. Puentes have started the conversation.
It's up to the rest of us to change the way we think about "the suburbs."
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