Is this the end of the American dream? How families are choosing city living over suburbs for the first time in 100 years
- New book, The End of the Suburbs, explains how changing economic trends are making a suburban lifestyle less desirable
- Rising energy costs are making commutes unaffordable
PUBLISHED: 17:20 EST, 1 August 2013 | UPDATED: 17:20 EST, 1 August 2013
For the first time in a century, it seems people in the U.S. are leaving the suburbs for cities.
Since the invention of the automobile in 1888, the rate of suburban population growth has consistently outpaced that of urban centers. But in 2011 – for the first time in a hundred years – the trend reversed.
Demographics, environmental concerns and rising energy costs all play roles, according to
The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving, a new book that charts the rise and fall of American suburbia.
‘Powerful social trends are shrinking and transforming the American nuclear family, long the dominant driver of suburbia,’ wrote the author, Leigh Gallagher.
‘Simply speaking, more and more Americans don’t want to live there anymore.’
Originally, suburbs were quaint, tree-lined villages. But the post-World War II housing shortage, and low-interest loans for the middle class led to the suburban house becoming as much a part of the American Dream as two kids and a dog.
Moving out: Some experts say that the era of cookie-cutter suburban homes that have been iconic of the American dream since the 1950s may be over forever
As suburbs grew, so to did ‘a lack of cultural amenities’, explains Ms Gallagher, who is also the Assistant Managing Editor of Fortune magazine. Suburbs, she says, lead to ‘miles and miles of Ruby Tuesdays’, and longer and longer commutes.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American takes 25.4minutes to get to work every day – and 10.8million face trips of more than an hour.
But rising energy costs mean that for many people, these trips are becoming less economical.
Battered by the job market, some young people – nicknamed ‘Generation Rent’ because they are, increasingly, delaying home ownership – are also choosing to settle in diverse urban areas.
Changing demographics: Since the 1950s the suburb system has depended on cars and highways, but now high energy costs are making long commutes unaffordable for many people
‘Construction permit data shows that in several cities, building activity that was once concentrated in the suburban fringe has now shifted primarily to cities, or what planners call the “urban core”‘, Ms Gallagher writes.
House builders claim that McMansions are out, while condominiums, townhouses, and multi-family housing units that emphasize efficient use of space are the future.
‘Gone are the master bathrooms you can land planes in,’ said Boyce Thompson, the editorial director of the Builder group of magazines at the housing research and publishing firm Hanley Wood, said recently.
In 2012, the Builder magazine ‘concept home’ was a series of three homes, each sized to house a different generation. Gallagher writes that some suburbs will survive: Ironically, in many communities there is a movement for New Urbanism that creates more pedestrian-friendly areas.
But Robert Shiller, a Yale University economist and founder of the Case-Shiller Home Price Indices, says that the constant expansion of the past few decades could be over forever.
‘Suburban prices may not recover in our lifetime,’ he adds.
Whatever happens, Ms Gallagher believes that we will have more options. ‘There is no single American Dream anymore,’ she writes.
‘There are multiple American Dreams, and multiple American Dreamers.’