4 Iconic Parts of Suburbs That Are Going Away Forever

Wouldn't it be great if there was a place you could live when you wanted to be in the city but also wanted a lot more space? Sort of like a mini-city, away from the bustling urban area itself. Like a sub ... urb.

But it's starting to look more and more like the idea of the suburb was just an artifact of the 20th century, because they're fading fast, and it's all because ...

#4. Their Prime Businesses Are Going Away

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For years, one of the biggest draws to the suburbs, besides all the readily available heroin, was the specialty retail shops. Clothing stores are the biggest, but pretty much any place that sells just one type of product (or subset thereof) is what we're talking about. Video games, toys, cards, books, whatever. They're all going out of business at an alarming rate.

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But people making "Business Closed" signs are rolling in dough.

In the last year alone, close to a dozen major clothing chains, located primarily in suburbs, have either announced mass closings or outright gone out of business. Delia's, Deb, Wet Seal, Aeropostale, American Eagle, Coach, and several more have all said that they're shuttering stores that used to be hugely profitable.

The American mall has been suffering for years. But now their close relatives, department stores, are also shutting down in droves. Sears, Kmart, Macy's, J.C. Penney, and even Target are starting to scale way, way down. Barnes & Noble and Toys "R" Us have announced major store closings, too, as have Office Depot/OfficeMax and Staples. RadioShack is also closing nearly 2,000 stores, but is still hanging in there, eagerly awaiting the frazzled dad looking for a certain type of battery five minutes before closing so he can get his kid's birthday present to work.

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Those dads were tenacious as fuck.

In fact, the only retail businesses that are doing reasonably well are chain pharmacies (which are more like big, less sketchy convenience stores now) and dollar stores. Places that tend not to specialize in anything are the only places people want to shop anymore.

You don't need to travel to your local suburb for a less-crowded shopping experience (or any shopping experience at all, if you live in a rural area). You can just hop on Amazon while fully nude and wearing a rubber horse mask and get a backup rubber horse mask shipped to you in two days or less, which more and more people seem to be doing, since Amazon's Prime membership numbers are skyrocketing. Getting Amazon Prime, that is. Not buying rubber horse masks.

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"Let's see security do something about it now."

But it's not just that. It seems that what really killed the specialty retail beast was stretching itself too thin. Huge numbers of stores that were run with minuscule margins means that the more they got squeezed, the faster they folded. And finally, after 20 years of recessions, a disappearing middle-class, and big-box stores and online shopping stealing their lunch, the camel's back seems to have finally broke, and no amount of celebrity clothing lines targeted at suburban moms have been able to fix it.

#3. The Suburbs Are Literally Falling Apart

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For most of the 20th century, America was fascinated with stretching out from the cities and building huge subdivisions where everyone got a big backyard. You could see your neighbors, but not actually have to talk to them. It was the American Dream.

This is what's known as urban sprawl, and while it's good in theory (who doesn't like to have their own space?) it's a fucking nightmare to pay for.

All those big, distant subdivisions need roads, water lines, sewer connections, electricity, and so on, and all that needs to paid for, just like in SimCity. And don't forget to keep those residential areas far away from the industrial zones so your Sims don't choke on smoke stacks that were built thinking no one was ever going to live beside them.

"Also, how is your monster attack plan?"

Once they're set up, you don't have to worry about them too much, other than minor repairs, right?

Not exactly. Take, for example, the story of Charles Marohn, a municipal engineer from Remer, Minnesota, and his discovery that the sewer system in Remer needed $300,000 worth of repairs, far more than the city's $120,000 budget for such repairs. Since suburbs have a lower population density, they tend to have lower tax revenues, and thus smaller budgets.

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They couldn't even afford a three-dimensional pie chart for this visual metaphor.

So he did what we all do: He borrowed. Marohn went to the feds for money. They weren't interested in funding such a small-beans project, so he included some other repairs and expansions to bring the total to $2.6 million. They approved the city for a grant. Not even a loan, a straight-up grant.

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It was a literal money shot.

While that seems like a nice solution, it led to a completely different problem -- the repairs were made, but the new, fancy sewer system cost way more to maintain. Since Remer couldn't afford that, Marohn knew it would quickly fall into disrepair, returning to the exact same problem they had before.

It's like buying a huge house with cash and then realizing you can't afford the property taxes. Except with a city, you have another option. You can expand and bring on new taxpayers, but then you're on the hook for more maintenance costs. Those are your choices: Go into debt or endlessly expand. Or, eventually, go bankrupt when everyone leaves, because ...

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M. Asher Cantrell

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