Autumn on Lake Audobon

Autumn on Lake Audobon
Autumn on Lake Audubon, Photo by Alison Kamat

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Are suburbs regaining their appeal--or do we need to re-define "suburb"?

A Wall Street Journal article by Neil Shah today has made quite a splash across the media world.  The article, "Signs of a Suburban Comeback," argues:
The long tug of war between big cities and suburbs is tilting ever so slightly back to the land of lawns and malls. After two years of solid urban growth, more Americans are moving again to suburbs and beyond.
Fourteen of the nation's 20 biggest cities saw their growth slow or their populations fall outright in 2012-2013 compared with 2011-2012, led by cities such as Detroit and Philadelphia, according to data released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau. . . .
Overall, cities are still growing slightly faster than the suburbs—a historical anomaly after decades of American migration to the burbs. Some of the growth has been fueled by younger Americans and retirees preferring city life, either for life-style reasons or to downsize their living arrangements.
Anything resembling the post-World War II trend of Americans streaming to the suburbs appears unlikely given the difficulties many debt-strapped young Americans face in buying a home. Still, the Census numbers show a cooling off in the growth rate of urban dwellers.
 And offers this graphic to support the point:



BUT James Bacon of Bacon's Rebellion has a different take on the Census data that seems more on point:


. .  (T)he (WSJ) article touches not at all upon a trend that renders suspect any analysis based upon comparisons between population growth in “urban core,” “suburban” and “exurban” jurisdictions. That trend is densification and re-development. Some unknown percentage of “suburban” growth can be attributed to re-development initiatives occurring in places such as Tysons, in Fairfax County. That so-called “suburban” jurisdiction is fostering higher-density, transit-oriented development around five soon-to-open Metro stations. In effect, the dense, mixed-use land use patterns typical of the urban core, in Washington, D.C., are transforming the “suburbs.”
By proclaiming that “suburbs regain their appeal” and displaying a photograph of a low-density, cul de sac subdivision”outside of Chicago,” the headline suggests that the pattern of metropolitan growth that prevailed between 1945 and 2007, commonly called “suburban sprawl,” has reasserted itself. That’s just plain wrong. . .
Bacon’s bottom line: Measuring population growth in jurisdictions defined as “urban core,” “suburban” and “exurban” doesn’t tell us much at all about what is happening in America’s major metropolitan regions. The spread of walkable, mixed-use development into so-called “suburban” counties makes a hash of the traditional categories we use to analyze population trends.
Click here for the rest of the bacon.  (Sorry, I couldn't resist.)

It makes one think a little differently about what may happen to our suburban Reston--in part through the Phase 2 exercise of the Reston Master Plan effort--in the decades ahead.

1 comment:

  1. Look only at building permits to see that multi-family and walkable neighborhoods are still in higher demand than greenfield new suburbs/exurbs. Western Loudoun, Prince William, and Stafford have completely stalled in growth relative to DC, Fairfax, Alexandria, MoCo. There is a reason for that.

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