The Housing Bubble and the Aging of Suburbia

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"Today's suburbia is now 60 years old. Due to slowing growth, super-high prices cannot be sustained,” warns Jack Lessinger, Professor Emeritus of Urban Development, University of Washington.

Housing bubble?

“Not in the Dakotas, Maine or Nebraska. Mostly in suburban hot spots. But suburbs are aging. As demand moves elsewhere, today’s super-high real estate prices will not be sustained.” So warns Jack Lessinger, Professor Emeritus of Urban Development, University of Washington.

In his latest book, "Your County—Boom or Bust? The Rise of Penturbia & The Fall of Suburbia," Lessinger’s data suggest the ending phase in a dramatic cycle of suburban growth. The book is available at

Beginning early in the 20th century with dreams of escape from the big cities, suburban growth exploded after World War II. Suburbs soon coalesced into mammoth ‘megapolitan’ regions. Aftr 25 years, however, frenetic development slowed to a gallop and in another 25 to a walk. People were voting with their feet for semi-rural counties beyond commuting range of large metropolitan areas. In 1986, Lessinger identified the rising counties as "penturbia," central feature in a new cycle of real estate development, fifth since 1790.

“Sixty years ago,” says Lessinger, “suburbia was paradise on earth for the rising consumer society and economy. What more could one wish for? A home of your own for ten thousand dollars, one thousand down and throw in the kitchen appliances. Thereafter, decade-by-decade, enthusiasm waned and withered as suburbia became increasingly unlivable, unlovable and unsustainable. Who could have imagined monster megapolitan areas like Los Angeles-Southern California, and Miami-Dade? Or that the ten thousand dollar home might one day cost up to a million?”

Lessinger’s data suggests that California blows one of the biggest housing bubbles. Today, over half its population of 35 million live in counties inundated with suburban subdivisions during 1950-1970. Now the tide has turned. In 1990-2004, the majority of these counties—including heavyweights like Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Clara—are losing shares of national population to other counties. Decline has also hit other suburban areas throughout the nation.

In his book, Penturbia (1990, 1991), Lessinger warned of an impending crash in Japanese real estate. And, in fact, it began in 1992. Well-off Japanese consumers of the 1990s increasingly escaped the old industrial cities so eagerly sought by their poverty-stricken parents. As demand fell, Tokyo real estate began a precipitous decline that soon vaporized over half its 1992 values.

To educate the public on economic problems and opportunities of coming decades, Lessinger offers a series of innovative installments at


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Jack Lessinger