Trulia Confronts ‘End of Suburbia’ Meme with New Study

by Peter Thomas Ricci


One of the more common housing memes, as of late, has been the end of suburbia: that because of the housing boom, and all the rampant suburban speculation that drove it, prospective homebuyers are opting for smaller units in more densely-packed urban environments, and are concluding America’s grand post-World War II suburban expansion. That idea has been submitted by a number of influential writers and institutes, but a new study by Trulia took a fresh look at housing trends – and, sans a few notable exceptions, arrived at contradictory conclusions.

The End of Suburbia? Not So Fast, Trulia Finds

The most noted study on the end of suburbia, Trulia says, was a Brookings Institute study that found America’s cities, in 2011, grew faster than its suburbs for the first time in nine decades. Brookings’ methodology for the test, though, was such that it excluded many smaller suburbs and cities, so for its own research, Trulia utilized U.S. Postal Service data and calculated household growth in every ZIP code in the nation from September 2011 to September 2012, with a focus on the nation’s 50 largest metropolitan areas. Here’s what they found:

• Even with all the buzz for a new, modern urbanism and the end of suburbia, the suburbs still grew more than the cities, albeit not substantially.

• In total, for the 50 largest metro areas, the city’s household growth was 0.536 percent, while the surrounding suburbs grew at 0.546 percent.

• Additionally, Trulia looked at the household density of the nation’s ZIP codes, and looked at how areas that are “more urban” are growing compared to “more suburban” areas. Using that methodology, the “more suburban” areas grew at twice the rate of the “more urban” segments, posting 0.73 percent growth to 0.35 percent for urban areas.

• That divergence was particularly profound in Texas, where San Antonio’s suburban growth was 2.46 percent to its 0.40 urban growth, and for Houston and Austin, it was 1.91 percent and 0.44 percent, and 2.13 percent and 0.88 percent, respectively.

What of Urbanism in the Modern Age?

There were some notable exceptions to those suburban trends, however, including two of the U.S.’ largest cities. In Memphis, New York City, San Jose, Pittsburg and right here in Chicago, urban areas of those metropolitan regions  grew more than their suburban locales. In Chicago, urban growth was the third highest in the nation, with urban areas growing 0.31 percent compared to the suburbs’ 0.26 percent.

But again, those areas were ultimately the exception, and Trulia’s findings stand in stark contrast to recent studies by Pike Research, which estimated that single-family homes’ square footage, after rising steadily for the past six decades, will shrink by nearly four billion square feet by 2021.

One other interesting idea does play in to this – “walkable urbanism.” Coined by George Washington University Professor Christopher Leinberger, the idea involves our living environments becoming less car-dependent and sprawling and more compact and walkable, and Leinberger is intent on that occurring not through urban expansion, but suburban areas becoming more urbanized and dense; so perhaps the end of suburbia, eventually, will occur from within?

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  • Steve says:

    Suburbia is a cultural and social vacuum created post WW2 to provide homes to veterans returning home, it spread even more with the mass adoption of cars by the middle class. But today, people rather live in smaller spaces in a walkable, socially friendly environment.

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