Suburban Angst? No Thanks

Contrary to their dismal depiction in novels and films, suburbs are very satisfying places to live, according to a new survey.

"Suburban angst makes for good novels and films, but people who live between the country and the city in the United States like their lawns and driveways.

Suburbanites are significantly more satisfied with their communities than people who live in cities, small towns or rural areas, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographics Trends Project.

More than 40 per cent of suburban residents rated their communities as satisfying places to live, compared with 34 per cent of urban dwellers, 29 per cent of people living in the countryside and 25 per cent of people living in small towns."

Full Story: Satisfaction in the suburbs



There's more to it than satisfaction

There so much more to this story than what this article gets into. Even if more residents are happy with the suburbs, it doesn't change the fact that they are unworkable in many ways. While they work well for young families because parents see the big yards and cul-de-sacs as being safe, the benefits don't go much further. They aren't walkable for 'tweens, teenagers and the elderly (which makes for a lot more driving), good transit service is impossible because of the road layout, shopping trips create huge amounts of traffic because all trips are funnelled onto the same collector and arterial roads, emergency services have longer response times, long-term maintenance and service provision is more expensive for the municipalities, etc...

So even if people like them, they're not worth it the way they are currently designed and built. However, some small changes to the road network layout, the addition of sidewalks, the inclusion of commercial corridors through the neighbourhoods, the inclusion of some multi-family units (but not high-rises) nearer to the commercial corridors, and improved road and pedestrian links to adjacent neighbourhoods would go a long way to improving things while still maintaining the quiet and safe feeling of the suburbs that people seem to like so much. We don't have to throw away the 'burbs, just rethink them.

Distorted Result On Suburban Satisfaction

I suspect that the results have more to do with the economic status of the neighborhoods than with their physical form. Suburbs tend to be middle class. Cities have more pockets of poverty, whose residents are likely to be less satisfied with their neighborhoods. Many small towns and rural areas are declining economically and losing residents, which obviously makes them less satisfying places to live.

People who live in the poor neighborhoods of cities are not dissatisfied with their communities because they are urban rather than suburban. They are dissatisfied with them because they have high levels of poverty and crime, substandard housing, and so on. Their dissatisfacion brings down the average level of satisfaction for the city as a whole.

If they want a valid result, they should compare urban and suburban neighborhoods with similar socio-economic characteristics.

Charles Siegel

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