The Myth of the Suburban Revival

Recent economics data released from the Brookings Institute have shown that job sprawl has spread outside of metro downtowns, including Cincinnati. Planning theorists however are at odds as to what this means with New Geography’s Joel Kotkin claiming the “triumph of suburbia” over the center city. However; his assertions seem to be based on several false assumptions in the market and does not take into account the millenial generations preference for walkable neighborhoods. Is this a City vs. Suburb debate or as Robert Steuteville claims a walkable vs. auto-dominated debate? More from Better Cities & Towns:

In his analysis, Kotlin ignores many inconvenient facts and trends that don’t fit his narrative of an inexorable, historical march to lower density in generation after generation. Real estate values have declined in the automobile-oriented suburbs relative to compact, mixed-use neighborhoods. There’s a growing preference for rental housing, and multifamily development has recovered far more quickly than single-family development. Multifamily development has taken on a new character in recent years. In the 1990s it was garden apartments in the suburbs. Now it is being built in urban, transit-served neighborhoods.

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  • Tim Schirmang

    I agree John, Steuteville has the better angle on the real issues. In general Kotkin is on target – the pull towards open spaces, perceived mobility and decreased population density are values that are hard wired into people through evolution. If the discussion is limited to urban core vs. suburb, the evidence will ultimately prevail on the side of suburbs so long as they are economically feasible, even if irrational, for the masses. Steuteville does a better job getting specific, and ultimately I think he’s correct in suggesting that both urban cores and suburbs are likely to evolve towards a walkable neighborhood compromise. Obviously this is limited to generalities – there will always be some who love the car-free urban core life and others who want 40 acres and no neighbors in sight.

    One thing neither article pointed out was the premature silliness of making categorical judgments about suburbs. In the evolution of societies suburbs (as they are discussed in these articles) are brand new – 60 years of mass suburban living is only a sliver of evidence compared to the societal patterns of the city-state. The American mcmansion suburbs are most likely a brief blip, fueled by aspirations of unsustainable materialism by people (boomers) who were understandably wooed by the thought of a big house and a full 3 car garage. Now that a bunch of folks have done that and found it’s not all it’s cracked up to be, the next group to choose (boomers’ kids) will understandably swing back the other way.