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Suburban Deterioration? Not So Fast

by Chicago Agent

So clean and organized! Some urban theorists are predicting the end of suburbia's influence.

Suburbia has been taking a bit of flack, as of late. The New York Times, as highlighted by NewGeography, ran two op-eds this past weekend proclaiming the decline of suburban living. Urban theorist Chris Leinberger claiming that Americans were abandoning “fringe suburbs” for urban areas, and UC Berkeley professor Louise Mozingo predicting the demise of the “suburban office building.” Even Shaun Donavan, who heads the Department of Housing and Urban Development, proclaimed the “limits of suburban development” were driving residents back to the city. But these calls for their waning influence are relatively new; and, according to NewGeography, not statistically sound.

The 2010 U.S. Census, for instance, seems to suggest the exact opposite of Donavan’s statement. In the first decades of the 2000s, just 8.6 percent of population growth in large cities took place in the actual, core city; all other growth was spread throughout the suburbs. By contrast, inner city growth was 15.4 percent.

Additionally, the appeal of single-family dwellings is as profound as ever. In the same past decade, single-family homes accounted for almost 80 percent of new households in the 51 largest cities, and of those new developments, detached housing has posted much lower vacancy rates than multi-unit properties.

Even gas costs have no deterred suburban appeal. According to Wendell Cox, who also contributes to NewGeography, the U.S. has 8 million more auto commuters now than it did 10 years ago, despite gas rising 45 percent in cost. Also, transit ridership has remained at 5 percent since 1990, while home commuter numbers have grown six times as quickly.

Nowhere is suburbia’s lasting quality more evident than in New York and Chicago, two of the most vast, diverse cities in the U.S. In New York, 29 percent of the city’s new construction was in the five boroughs the past decade, which is a 17 percent decline from the ’90s, while in Chicago, the outer suburbs and exurbs have gained more than 500,000 people since 2000, while the inner suburbs and city itself have lost roughly 200,000.

As Joel Kotkin, the author of the NewGeography piece, concluded in his writing, “The media reports about the ‘death’ of fringe suburbs seem to be more a matter of wishful thinking than fact.”

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