We Love City Living: Reversing 100 Years of Suburbanization

Note: This Facebook post sparked a healthy debate, so i thought I would expound on my original statement and re-post the thread below.

For the first time in nearly a century, cities are growing faster than suburbs. I believe this is partly about economic realities – young people are having difficulty finding jobs, so they’re staying close to cities where those jobs are, delaying marriage, kids, and buying their first home, and avoiding buying a car. However, I’d also like to believe that our generation, more than those before it, genuinely enjoys city living, and that even after this wave of unemployment has passed, we will continue to see them chose to stay in cities. Yes – the economic downturn has created an opening for companies like AirBnB and GetAround to help us travel on a budget. But we don’t just do it to save money. AirBnB has genuinely positioned itself as aspirational – as a cool, innovative,  and exciting way to experience distant places. It’s not for poor people – it’s for people who are Thrifty. Same thing with companies like H&M and Zara – who are notorious for rapidly-copying runway fashions and rolling them out in stores at affordable prices. Our generation genuinely likes our loft apartments in converted warehouses, our gourmet food trucks selling mini creme brulees, and city life over the white picket fence and Ford Explorer. We want to walk to a coffee shop listening to our iPod, not drive a suburban to the mall. Our generation is willing to compromise on less space to be closer to the action – closer to music, art, food, and each other. We appreciate character.

Here’s the original discussion on Facebook that occurred after I posted the article and the hypothesis that our generation wants to live in cities, not suburbs:

  • Akhila Singaraju do you think it’s also bc people work more/dont want to commute
  • Aditya VempatyAlso I think our generation understands the value of living close to work and depending less on cars and more on their own two feet and public transportation.

  • Kavita Khandekar That’s really interesting. I think it has more to do with poverty than anything else. Moving to Texas was a huge wake up call for me as to what this country really looks like- and most of us are too poor to own a house out in the burbs. In fact many of us can barely stay in the apartment we have. Your viewpoint suggests it is a choice rather than necessity. The 50% of the population I work with that live in a “low income status” would say that its also too expensive to drive back and forth from the suburbs to the cities to work. Pop your Bay Area bubble people – the rest of the country ain’t doing so well. That being said other contributing factors may also be the declining birth rate and marriage rates in our country, as the living in the suburbs would be mighty lonely by yourself!
  • Prasid Pathak Kavita – the counter argument is that there are plenty of cheap suburbs. its certainly cheaper to live out in someplace like Carrollton, TX than it is to live in downtown Dallas. yes it’s about economics. but i’d like to believe that as the recession recedes, our generation will chose to stay in the city – that we genuinely like our ZipCars and Farmers Markets
  • Kavita Khandekar I am just offering the argument that when you say our generation you are perhaps leaving out a large chunk of the people that make up urban living who don’t live in downtown highrises, but instead the shady parts of the city that you don’t venture to. There the apartments are much cheaper. Even a suburb like Carrollton would be out of range for many of our generation who are jobless, have no college education, etc. I think you are right in saying that the people who are currently living in the city and taking advantage of its perks may genuinely enjoy those luxuries and stay there as the recession recedes. My point is only that these people are perhaps not the rule but the exception. I don’t know the numbers but I would be curious to see what the demographic breakdown is for people living in these urban centers by economic status.
  • Sumesh Chopra Using Dallas is not an accurate example. It’s not even remotely walkable, jobs are not densely clustered in one area (Plano has more sq. feet of office space than downtown dallas) and the transportation infrastructure is solid. Plus Dallas has ONE zipcar location, next to UTD, which is in Richardson, and has ONE farmer’s market in a terrible location. Kavita, aren’t you excited to move here?

  • Prasid Pathak: Sumesh Chopra yes. Dallas is not at all ideal. Neither are some of the other largest cities in the country such as Houston, Atlanta, and Los Angeles. Despite the lack of transportation infrastructure and downtown jobs, people ARE moving to the cities faster than to the suburbs. which implies that part of it isn’t economic, but personal choice
  • Sumesh Chopra: People need to be able to pay mortgages to move to the suburbs. The fastest years for suburban expansion were also the years when anybody could get a mortgage. Now the bubble has popped, and less people are moving to the suburbs. From your article: “driving the resurgence are young adults, who are delaying careers, marriage and having children amid persistently high unemployment. Burdened with college debt or toiling in temporary, lower-wage positions, they are spurning homeownership in the suburbs for shorter-term, no-strings-attached apartment living, public transit and proximity to potential jobs in larger cities … Some sociologists are calling them “generation rent.”

  • Vinay Kapadia Meh, screw cities. I’d hate living there. The Burbs is where its at. Give me my open spacious house with my 2 car garage over a cramped “loft” with a tiny parking space that you cant fit a smart car into. I can drive into the city anytime I want if I want to get the city experience, but then I can pull away and relax in my noise free neighborhood.
  • Alex GrantAs our generation grows up and starts families, i’d like to see the change (if any) in this statistic. I think it’s a combination of economics and the way our generation romanticizes city life (like you said), but mostly money. If you could afford to live in the burbs and play in the city, why not do exactly that?

  • Vinay Kapadia And also you also wrote “but also partly also that” also.
  • Vinay Kapadia Great, now “also” doesn’t feel like a word.
  • Winnie Kao Such insightful comments. Prasid Pathak, you’re friends are so smart. I’m including myself in this bucket. =) But really, great perspectives represented here.

  • Ricky Bhatia I agree with Sumesh Chopra and Kavita Khandekar. I don’t think it is so much a choice anymore…Also ‘burdened with college debt or toiling in temporary lower-wage positions’ doesn’t sound like a choice. It sounds like ‘hey i can’t get a home loan because I have over 100k in grad school debt and another 20k for my car loan’…

  • Sean EshbaughAlso, fuck any place without ample parking. Just sayin’.

  • Vivek Amin I mean, all of this is fine…but I think it’s better to just wait to live in the Launch Arcos from SimCity.

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