The book Market Cities, People Cities by sociologists Michael Emerson and Kevin Smiley examines big cities in light of two ends of a spectrum: market cities follow an economic logic and people cities look out for the well-being of their residents first. In their study, Houston is the model of a market city and Copenhagen is the people city exemplar.
This got me thinking about American suburbs. Given their history and priorities, they appear to be market communities. On the whole, American suburbs emphasize single-family homes, private families, driving, and local control over resources. They are generally known as wealthier communities. Additionally, the suburbs have generated a lot of money for developers, builders, the construction industry, and communities through tax revenues. Most of this is private wealth or money that residents hope can be spent on their own lives.
So, are there suburbs that emphasize the welfare of residents over markets? If so, where might they be located? A few ideas:
- Inner-ring suburbs. This could be because they located near big people cities or the sets of issues facing such suburbs – often racial and ethnic diversity and more poverty – could prompt a different approach to local governance and community life.
- Suburbs within blue states. If this is the case, suburbs in states like New York, Illinois, California, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Washington are more likely to have people suburbs.
- Suburbs that have strains of political liberalism. While suburbs are traditionally associated with more conservative political stances, this has been in flux in the last few decades. With new residents in suburbia as well as new generations, some communities may view suburban life through a different lens.
- The rare suburb that has experienced a significant crisis – a major development gone awry, the loss of a major employer, severe budget issues – and tried to forge a new path.
If I had to guess what percent of suburbs could be considered more devoted to well-being than markets, I might venture 20% at most.