In metro Atlanta, which is feeling the effects of unchecked sprawl as the drought saps its water supply, and elsewhere in the country, the real estate slump has many consequences.
For many -- perhaps millions -- of homeowners, the biggest concerns are very immediate: how do I hold onto my home, when my mortgage and other bills keep increasing? For many others, there are worrying indications the housing slump -- bought with bad credit by everyone from the least earner to the top hedge fund manager -- could lead to an economy-wide or even global recession.
For communities that have endured years of real estate speculation and development, like Atlanta, New York's Hudson Valley, parts of Florida, the Southwest and California, the slump is an opportunity. Unchecked sprawl in fast-growing regions has carved up farmland that might otherwise provide local food, leveled forests that might otherwise store atmospheric carbon and provide habitat for wildlife and created the need for new networks of roads where gas-guzzling SUVs roam.
Now, communities can step back and focus on planning for the next wave of population growth. So-called smartgrowth advocates say a wise alternative to sprawl involves building new homes where there are existing ones: in cities and villages, which already have schools, businesses, grocery stores and the like. That lets people stay on their feet more than in their cars, reduces pollution and can protect outlying farms and forests that might otherwise be paved over.
There's not a lot to like in the housing slump. Some communities, at least, can use the opportunity it presents to figuratively pave a better path to a more sustainable future.
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