We first noticed a takeoff in suburban growth in 2013, following a stall-out in the Great Recession. This year research from Brookings confirms that peripheral communities — the newly minted suburbs of the 1990s and early 2000s — are growing more rapidly than denser, inner ring areas.
Peripheral, recent suburbs accounted for roughly 43% of all U.S. residences in 2010. Between July 2013 and July 2014, core urban communities lost a net 363,000 people overall, Brookings demographer Bill Frey reports, as migration increased to suburban and exurban counties. The biggest growth was in exurban areas, or the “suburbiest” places on the periphery…
Far from being doomed, exurbia is turning into something very different from the homogeneous and boring places portrayed in media accounts. For one thing exurbs are becoming increasingly ethnically diverse. In the decade that ended in 2010 the percentage of suburbanites living in “traditional” largely white suburbs fell from 51% to 39%. According to a 2014 University of Minnesota report, in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan areas, 44% of residents live in racially and ethnically diverse suburbs, defined as between 20% and 60% non-white.
And how about the seniors, a group that pundits consistently claim to be heading back to the city? In reality, according to an analysis of Census data, as seniors age they’re increasingly unlikely to move, but if they do, they tend to move out of urban cores as they reach their 60s, and to less congested, often more affordable areas out in the periphery. Seniors are seven times more likely to buy a suburban house than move to a more urban location. A National Association of Realtors survey found that the vast majority of buyers over 65 looked in suburban areas, followed by rural locales.
This article throws out a lot of reasons why they might want to do this: wanting to own a single-family home, wanting more space (both in the home and in the community), feeling part of a smaller community, sending their kids to good schools, having communities with low crime, and accessing plenty of available jobs. Put another way, the exurbs have downsides but enough Americans consistently seem to want to live on the metropolitan fringe.
At the end, Kotkin suggests that planners and others need to own up to this reality: cities cannot provide these desirable traits. I wonder if that is the case; is the answer that it is either dense inner cities or sprawling exurbs? I think many cities and closer suburbs would want to be able to claim the positives cited above. And there are likely many pockets where this is possible even if not all residents of major cities have these advantages. But, instead of trying to suggest that all people should get used to dense city life or exurban life, why not look for more ways to enhance opportunities throughout an entire region? Perhaps it is a problem of government layers as every community looks out for their own interests first. Or perhaps this is still impossible in a country where race and social class matter tremendously for the kinds of places where people live. Rather than suggest Americans want to live in a certain kind of setting, we need solutions to issues in a variety of communities throughout metropolitan regions (and beyond).