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Are The Suburbs Going Out Of Style?

Written by Jaymi Naciri Posted On Thursday, 26 February 2015 08:19

Are you out of style? If you live in the suburbs, you just may be.

At least that's what a new report from Portland, Oregon-based think tank City Observatory said.

People have typically moved out to the suburbs for a few key reasons: more house for the money; the possibility of better public schools; a more family-focused environment; a yard for the dog. The tradeoff is more time spent commuting, less time at home. For many, it's worth it. But that might be changing.

"Downtown is coming back. Just look at Charlotte, Oklahoma City and Milwaukee—classic examples of U.S. cities where the well-to-do chose to live in the suburbs," said Bloomberg in a story on City Observatory's report. "Now they are among the most vibrant U.S. city centers."

Compelling data

While the conversation is nothing new and the death of the suburbs may have been exaggerated, the data is compelling. The report cites the surge in job opportunities in city centers as a driving force behind the increase in city living. "City Observatory measured the urban core as an area within three miles of the central business district. It then took a before and after snapshot of the job market in the 51 biggest U.S. metropolitan areas in two different time periods," which showed a marked increase in several cities.

The 2013 TIME magazine article "The End of the Suburbs" stated that, "A major change is underway in where and how we are choosing to live. In 2011, for the first time in nearly a hundred years, the rate of urban population growth outpaced suburban growth, reversing a trend that held steady for every decade since the invention of the automobile."

The article also noted that, "In several metropolitan areas, building activity that was once concentrated in the suburban fringe has now shifted to what planners call the ‘urban core,' while demand for large single-family homes that characterize our modern suburbs is dwindling."

Their takeaway: Americans don't want to live in the suburbs anymore, which they likened to the idea of "tranquil, tree-lined streets, soccer leagues and center hall colonials…being replaced by "endless sprawl, a punishing commute, and McMansions."

Improved economic conditions and city migration by two key demographics is largely responsible for the reversal of the "suburban exodus," as The Wire calls it.

"More Americans are moving to cities in the wake of the slight uptick in the economy in recent years, reversing the decades-long trend of settling in the suburbs," they said. "The trend in city living is driven primarily by two groups: young professionals and Baby Boomers, who are retiring and moving back to the cities they left when they started families."

All melding into one

The Atlantic's CityLab has a slightly different take, pointing out in "The Fading Distinction Between City and Suburb" that people may be returning to urban neighborhoods, but they're bringing "much of their suburban lifestyle with them."

"A recent Canadian study indicated that the traditional suburban lifestyle continues to be widespread, finding that key features of suburban life not only remain commonplace in the suburbs but are often continued by high-income people even after they move to cities."

Of course, the relationship between those moving back to the city and their continued lifestyle choices hinges on income.

"Richer people, the researchers found, tend to own single-family homes and drive cars even when they live in highly urbanized neighborhoods. As the rich move back to cities, they take their preferences for and abilities to purchase larger home or condos and private cars."

At the heart of suburban sprawl

Affordability has long been a main driver for those heading out to the suburbs. In cities like Los Angeles, the suburbs continue to attract those who are priced out of the city or who would prefer to spend their money on a large family home with a yard and no private school tuition instead of a cramped city condo. In the northern suburb of Valencia, a booming local economy heavy on hi-tech and film and TV production employ many local residents. However, many thousands of others commute up to three to four hours per day to the Westside, downtown L.A. and other large employment centers. The price they have to pay for suburban life? Literally.

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