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Back To The Burbs
The Suburbs Are Growing Faster Than Cities

Don’t count the suburbs out. That’s the lesson of a new study from the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Property developers and urban-policy experts have trumpeted the influx of young, affluent professionals into big central cities in recent years. The shift has transformed downtown areas, sparking a historic boom in luxury-apartment construction and retail development.

That, in turn, has fueled affordability concerns in cities as diverse as Cleveland and Dallas. Median home values in the urban areas studied were $365,000, compared with $305,000 in the suburbs.

But research shows that suburbs are continuing to outstrip downtowns in overall population growth, diversity and even younger residents.

The suburban areas surrounding the 50 largest metropolitan areas make up 79% of the population of those areas but accounted for 91% of population growth over the past 15 years, according to the study. What’s more, three-quarters of people age 25 to 34 in these metro areas live in suburbs.

Conventional wisdom among the intelligentsia is that cities are the future; the big house, big car lifestyle is a relic of a time when people ate jello and poured ranch dressing on everything. Journalists and academics have cheered on this “New Urbanism,” penning rapturous essays about old warehouses repurposed as indoor markets, and the communal vibrance and eco-friendliness of urban density. Meanwhile, millions of Americans have been doing exactly the opposite of what the urbanists predicted: moving to the suburbs.

This news underscores the argument WRM made in his essay on Monday morning about the big opportunity awaiting President-elect Trump. The suburbs get a bad rap, and worries about the environmental impact of a suburban lifestyle should lessen as self-driving cars come online and telecommuting becomes easier. But even without much help from the government, it’s clear that Americans still choose to avoid cities. Suburbs have been driving more job growth in recent years than have cities, reversing the post-recession urban success story (one which was partly driven by the stimulus bill and low interest rates). WRM argues that President-elect Trump could capitalize on this trend. Read the whole thing if you haven’t already.

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  • rheddles

    City living has its attractions. Till the children arrive. Then schools take over as the dominant factor in real estate selection. If the urbanists were serious about wanting families with children in the city, they’d be advocating vouchers for all and the deconstruction of city school systems.But that won’t happen. So the cities will start to restagnate as the shadow of the baby boom has more and more children and moves out to the suburbs.

  • Beauceron

    I wonder how much this has to do with the uptick in violence in many cities over the past few years (

    Cities have to be livable. If people feel they cannot go outside, the park, or send their kids to school, they’ll move to a place where they feel safer.

    • Jim__L

      The fact that social trust has eroded so far — kids have “play dates” instead of just wandering over to each others’ houses when they feel like it — ensures the cities, where your kids are exposed to orders of magnitude more strangers, are not going to be a good place to raise kids.

  • ——————————

    “wisdom among the intelligentsia” – oxymoron

    “Journalists and academics have cheered on this “New Urbanism,” penning rapturous essays about old warehouses repurposed as indoor markets, and the communal vibrance and eco-friendliness of urban density. Meanwhile, millions of Americans have been doing exactly the opposite of what the urbanists predicted: moving to the suburbs.”

    So the liberals didn’t know that everyone doesn’t want to live in a high-rise glass cubical, or in an old building with washed brick walls, wood floors that have been through 100 years of manufacturing, and exposed heating ducts…that some actually want a yard and peace and quiet…wow, who knew!

  • f1b0nacc1

    If you are fantastically wealthy, cities are wonderful playgrounds, and if you are horrifically poor, cities are black holes that you can easily be trapped inside of. For everyone else, cities are too expensive, and offer far too little to be attractive to live in, particularly if you have children who will be attending school. The corruption and inefficiency of city governments (and the services, or lack thereof, which they supply) are acceptable to the rich, who can buy better on their own, or the poor, who have no alternatives, but for everyone else, they vote with their feet.

  • mezzrow

    You got a problem with ranch dressing?

  • victoria wilson – mn

    Growth occurs in the suburbs as that is where there is land to expand. In cities that have been built-out for 50+ years the logistics of tear down and rebuild makes for expensive projects. So yes the predominance of new development will continue to appear along metropolitan edges. Though I don’t know if you will ever find brand new homes to be the most frugal of options; they are more likely to be the choice of those who find themselves in more favorable circumstances.
    It will be exciting to see where the energy and enthusiasm of first time millennia buyers is unleashed. Any cohort in a large enough group can have an impact shoring up a neighborhood on the slide, build out a third tier suburb or simply rejuvenate the demographic back where they grew up.
    What we need to be wary of is neglected unused places. Without the energy of youth and the routine of the middle aged and the watchfulness of the elderly, places start to loose their appeal first to one group, then another. Until they seem to be written off, driven-by and ignored all together. That’s when lead is found in the drinking water, police forces are at a loss and light rail projects seem to always find an alternate route on their edges. That’s when the expense of neglect finds its way not just to the city or the county but very possibly up to the federal level. That’s when we all pay.

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