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居民区就是这般:抵押贷款危机一来,郊区活力

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苏珊·麦克唐纳看起来并不像是一位积极分子。她开着一辆不错的车,穿着漂亮的衣服,在工作时间似乎就是为左邻右舍服务的私人银行家代表。但是下班之后麦克唐纳过的是另一种生活。就是在此时她的角色从三个孩子的母亲转变为邻里组织者,立志动员社区成员为许多人认为正处于危险状态的生活方式而奋斗。

 

麦克唐纳认为自己是郊区居民,她是弗兰克林预备舍居民区协会的主席,这个协会是新近在加利福尼亚首府萨克拉曼多南15英里的鹿林市发展起来的。弗兰克林预备舍由一群位于无名的尽端路两侧的富丽堂皇的房屋组成,这些房屋都有着不可思议的名字,如雪豹圈和狐步道,这个预备舍正位于有些人所认为的郊区人的灵魂挣扎的心脏地带。

 

抵押品赎回危机的全面开始和人口统计的变动、高油价和一系列其他因素意味着郊区可能正在慢慢消失。一位分析家预测了一下未来,那时郊区——一个以前会给予人们许多家庭欢乐的地方,正在变成新的贫民窟,由贫困和堕落引发的犯罪肆意猖獗。离“贫民区居民”这个术语成为现实并不远了。

 

弗兰克林预备区是一个有围墙但没有大门的社区,可供15,000人居住,似乎在蓬勃发展。但是有迹象表明一切并不是那么如意。一些楼前草坪杂乱不堪,出售招牌遍地都是,几乎和招租房产的招牌相当。在开普瑞佐道上有一所备有游泳池的五室三浴的房子现在市场售价是550,000美元,大概比一年前广告中的售价少100,000美元。在街道对过,一张更不吉利的有关抵押品赎回危机的布告贴在考蒂诺道的灰泥房屋的铸铁大门上。“搬家的预先通知,”上面写道,告诉欠款的居住人离搬走还有三天的时间。

 

四年前,麦克唐纳被郊区的生活所吸引而搬到了鹿林市。“我们一直想到鹿林市住,”她说,“我们有机会在一个新的地方购买一所新房子,那里有一流的学校,而鹿林市就以是一个友好的、重视家庭的社区而闻名。”

 

由廉价的抵押贷款所推动的发展使本需要在十年内完成的发展在短短四年内就得以实现。然而,那里面的设施远远落后,而一旦抵押贷款危机开始侵入,麦克唐纳就开始注意到有什么变化要发生了。

 

“我领孩子们在公园里散步时

看到了一些涂鸦,”她说,“我开始在鹿林市的一个聊天室里

发布这件事情,有许多人的回答是肯定的,这个他们也看过

惯。”

 

不久之后,麦克唐纳和其他七人决定成立一个居民区协会。现在,这个群体有四百个成员

、一个草坪修理工作队、一个市政厅认可的良好的居民管理条例和一个生机勃勃的网上留言板。

 

春日阳光明媚,斯哥特·布雷斯维特正坐在鹿林市林荫大道的一个果汁店外面,自从他从波士顿搬到这座城市来,他目睹了三年来事情是怎样开始让人承受不起的。

 

在这里,我们就像生活在天堂里,对吗?”他说,“人们在这里花了许多钱,花了许多可以支配的收入。许多人很愤怒。他们不愿看到他们的财产贬值。”

 

“你看到我们的居民区里有许多房子都空了,空了许多年,那些好房子的院子里都杂草丛生。我看到建了许多好房子,10到15年左右的汽车停在车道上。然后车子没有了,只剩下空空的车道。”

 

据华盛顿哥伦比亚开发区的一位城市理论家和访问研究员克里斯多夫·莱恩伯格称,空车道和未修剪的草坪还算郊区区民的问题中最小的一个。莱恩伯格在《大西洋月刊》上发表了一篇文章分析了这个问题,他声称,郊区居民受到抵押贷款和人口统计变动的非难,他们的日子注定不好过。

 

“在过去的50年里,我们离开了城市,转往郊区生活,”他说,“现在受四加仑每升汽油的逼迫,他们又被迫回到先前的地方。”

 

这种变动也受到文化和人口统计变化的推动,莱恩伯格说。夫妇们生育的时间比较晚,因此在郊区购置一所有五个卧室和一个大花园的住宅现在并没有以前的需要那么迫切。现在流行文化不仅仅认为郊区是反乌托邦的噩梦所在之地,并且推崇城市生活,认为它是21世纪最重要的价值观——性愉悦的体现。潜在的购买者正被可以步行的城市生活所诱惑,而不喜欢需要开车的郊区生活。

 

“交通费现在占家庭开支的19%,而一百年前只有3%。”赖恩伯格说,“从某种意义上说,我们国家应该认真对待碳排放量这一问题。已经定型的环境所排放的碳占到总排放量的72%。如果我们认真对待这一问题,那么我们所要拉的这个杠杆就非同寻常了。”#p#分页标题#e#

 

“我们注意到犯罪率在上升,”鹿林市警察局发言人克里斯托弗·锥姆说,“但是许多居民区协会成员认为犯罪只不过是一种枯萎病,并不需要法律手段来制裁。”市政厅对此事已发表了言论,最近宣布要在城市的一些公园里安装安全摄像头。

 

弗兰克林预备区特别脆弱。它的高速发展与廉价的抵押贷款高潮相吻合,吸引了社区里不怎么有钱的人来购买房子。他们购买房产并没有首付,如果他们欠款,除了丧失自己的信用级外,他们没有什么可丧失的。

 

“有许多人从海湾地区(旧金山湾,往返需两个小时)来到这里买了四栋房子,也有许多投机者和这儿的许多人在购买有五个卧室的房子,而这些房子是他们本来买不起的,”当地的房地产代理商诺姆·斯格里沃说。

 

现在情况不同了。“小的零售商失去了生意,”斯格里沃说,“饭店、汽车店、服装店都是如此,人们确实都在勒紧裤带。每一个人都对面对现实。必要时,每个人都要情绪高昂。”

 

走出弗兰克林预备区,穿过鹿林市林荫大道,你就会看到拉古娜山脊,它是为这座城市所要建设的下一座大规模的住宅发展区域。城市规划者和房屋建造在吸取了快速发展的弗兰克林预备区的教训后,对拉古娜山脊所做的一部分是正确的。基础设施在房屋建造之前就已确定。晚上,街灯把1,900英亩的地方照的通红,使人感到一种安全和住在郊区的惬意。但是一到白天情形就完全不同了。所有的建设工程都已经停顿,只有为数不多的房屋完成了建造。要在2009年完成8,000左右所房屋的建造似乎还很遥远。

 

但是令城市理论家警惕的是一旦人们不再能承受得起住在那儿的费用,这些建设项目该怎么办。因为这不像在上个世纪后半期被遗弃的市中心,郊区的建设项目很难有其他的用途。“这些地方是专为居住设计的,”赖恩伯格说,“它们要转变成零售店或办公室或旅馆可不那么容易。”

译文:There goes the neighbourhood: mortgage crisis sees suburbs slump

Susan McDonald doesn't look like an activist. She drives a nice car, wears smart clothes and appears to be the embodiment of the neighbourhood personal banker she is during office hours. But after work McDonald has another life. It is then that the mother of three turns into a neighbourhood organiser, determined to mobilise her community to battle for a way of life that many believe is in peril.

McDonald is a self-confessed suburbanite and president of the Franklin Reserve Neighbourhood Association, a new development in the city of Elk Grove, 15 miles south of the California capital, Sacramento. Franklin Reserve, a collection of imposing houses stationed on anonymous cul-de-sacs bearing improbable names - Snow Leopard Circle, Fox Trotter Way - is at the heart of what some see as a struggle for the soul of suburbia.

The full onset of the mortgage foreclosure crisis, coupled with demographic changes, rising fuel prices and a host of other factors means that the suburbs could be on the way out. One analyst has postulated a future in which the suburbs, which once promised so much domestic happiness, are transformed into the new slums, with rampant crime fuelled by poverty and decay. The term "slumburbia" was not far behind.

Franklin Reserve, a walled but not gated community of 15,000 people, appears to be a prosperous development. But there are signs that all is not well. Some front lawns are unkempt, and for sale signs abound, almost matched by signs offering properties for rent. On Caprezzo Way a five-bedroom, three-bathroom house, complete with pool, is on the market for $550,000, probably $100,000 less than it would have been advertised for a year ago. Across the street a more ominous sign of the mortgage foreclosure crisis is taped to the wrought iron gate of a stucco house on Cortino Way. "Notice to quit," it declares, telling the defaulting occupants they have three days to leave.

McDonald moved to Elk Grove four years ago, attracted by suburban life. "We always had an eye out for Elk Grove," she says. "We had an opportunity to buy a new home in a new location, with award-winning schools, and Elk Grove had the reputation of being a friendly, family-oriented community."

Fast growth spurred by cheap mortgages saw the proposed 10-year development completed in just four years. The amenities, however, lagged behind, and once the mortgage crisis started to bite, McDonald began to notice changes.

"I took my kids for a walk in the park and saw some graffiti," she says. "I started by posting this in a chatroom for Elk Grove and a lot of people said yes, I've seen this too."

Soon after, McDonald and seven others took the decision to form a neighbourhood association. Today, the group has 400 members, a lawn-mowing task force, a good neighbour ordinance before the city council and a vibrant online message board.

Sitting in the bright spring sunshine outside Juice It Up on Elk Grove Boulevard, Scott Braithwaite has seen things start to fall apart in the three years since he moved to the city from Boston.

"We're living in paradise here, right?" he says. "There's a lot of money here, a lot of disposable income. A lot of people are angry. They don't like to see their property values diminished.

"You see a lot of homes in our neighbourhood that are empty, and have been for ages, upscale homes with weeds growing in the yard. I've noticed very nice houses being built, but 10-15-year-old cars in the driveway. Then the cars disappear, and they're replaced by empty driveways."

But empty driveways and unmown lawns are the least of suburbia's problems, according to Christopher Leinberger, an urban theorist and visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington DC. Leinberger, who wrote an analysis of the problem in the Atlantic Monthly, argues that suburbia is doomed, condemned by the mortgage crisis and demographic change.

"For the past 50 years we've left the city and headed to the suburbs," he says. "Now the pendulum is swinging back, aided by $4 per gallon gas."

The move has also been helped by cultural and demographic changes, argues Leinberger. Couples are having children later in life, so the need for the suburban mansion with five bedrooms and a huge garden is not quite as pressing. And popular culture not only identifies suburbia as the place of dystopian nightmares, but promotes urban living as the embodiment of that most important of 21st century values: sexy fun. Potential buyers are being seduced by the concept of walkable, urban living over driveable, suburban living.

"Transport now accounts for 19% of household costs, compared to 3% a hundred years ago," says Leinberger. "At some point this country has to get serious about reducing carbon emissions. The built environment is responsible for 72% of our carbon emissions. It's a very significant lever that we're going to have to pull if we're serious about this."

"We have seen an increase in crime," says Elk Grove police department spokesman Christopher Trim, "but a lot of what the neighbourhood association would consider crime is blight, and would not be a law enforcement issue." The city council has also addressed the issue, recently announcing that it would install security cameras in some of the city's parks.

Franklin Reserve is particularly vulnerable. Its fast growth coincided with the cheap mortgage boom, attracting buyers who had little stake in the community. With no down payment on a property, they had nothing to lose but their credit rating should they default.

"There were a lot of people from the Bay area [the San Francisco Bay, a two-hour commute away] that came out here and bought four houses, a lot of speculators and a lot of people from here who shouldn't have been able to buy but were buying five-bedroom houses," says local real estate agent Norm Schriever.

Now things are different. "Small retailers are going out of business," Schriever says, "restaurants, car shops, clothing stores, people are really tightening their belts. Everybody's coming down to earth. It was needed, everybody got high on the hog."

Leave Franklin Reserve and cross Elk Grove Boulevard and you find Laguna Ridge, the next large-scale residential development scheduled for the city. Absorbing the lessons of fast-growth Franklin Reserve, city planners and home builders got part of Laguna Ridge right. The infrastructure was put in place ahead of the houses. At night, street lights glow on the 1,900 acre site, a vision of safety and suburban fulfilment. But by day it is a different story. Construction has all but halted, and only a handful of homes are completed. The 2009 completion date for the 8,000 or so homes seems a long way off.

But what most alarms urban theorists is what might become of these developments once people can no longer afford to live there. Unlike the inner city that was abandoned in the latter half of the last century, it is hard to adapt suburban developments to other uses. "These spaces are custom made for residential only," says Leinberger. "They don't convert easily to retail or office or hotel."

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