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Suburbs Come Roaring Back

For nearly a decade, the narrative of the move back to the city has held sway in American life. But newly analyzed Census data indicate that the presumed death of the suburbs may have been premature.
March 30, 2015, 7am PDT | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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Saucy Salad (Rebecca Wilson)

After a century of suburbanization, it seemed that urban trends in the United States had reversed themselves. Center cities were getting denser, nicer, and more vibrant. No one in their right mind would live in a suburb any more. Millenials cared more about urban amenities and living close to one another than they did about yards and personal space. Center cities, for the first time in decades, grew faster than did suburbs. Entire subdivisions, their residents ravaged by mortgage debt, turned into ghost towns.

Newly analyzed Census data says, not so fast. The outer suburban and exurban areas that suffered mightily during the Great Recession are showing signs of life. Growth on the urban edges is now occurring at higher rates than it is in center cities, according to the Brookings Institution. Center cities aren't shrinking—far from it—but the suburban dream appears healthy. The economy may have inspired the suburban exodus more so than cultural shifts did. 

"The fledgling trend, captured in data through 2014, raises questions about whether American preferences for where and how to live truly changed much during the housing bust, or if we simply put our exurban aspirations on hold. At the same time, the shift calls into question a parallel and popular narrative: that Americans who once preferred the suburbs would now rather move into the city."

Meanwhile, residents who move within an urban area are now more likely to move from a center city to a suburban area than they were five years ago. 

"We’ll have to wait until there's a generation of kids that come out that have opportunities to make decisions based on their preferences rather than just constraints," demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution told the Washington Post. "That’s not yet happened, either. It may be starting to happen."

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Published on Thursday, March 26, 2015 in The Washington Post - Blogs
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