• Rose Smith

Are We Gravitating towards Suburbia? What Does That Even Mean?


Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons

I’ve always thought the idea of suburbia to be interesting. For the bulk of my life, I’ve technically lived there, though it’s closer to urban than what I imagine to be the average suburban home to be (I’m still extremely close to the city by train, and while we have a yard, it’s not some kind of sprawling lot with a mail box at the end of it (I think I take way too much of my knowledge of the suburbs from cartoons)). Even though it is commonly seen is the average place to grow up and raise a family, what kinds of places are we mostly populating? Is it still the suburbs, or are we perhaps moving towards urban or even rural places?

Living areas actually have different classifications depending on who you ask. For instance, the United States census defines urban areas (which one may immediately imagine as a bustling city) as any densely populated area (City Lab). Even further, urban areas are divided up in two different classifications: urbanized areas (areas that have 50,000 or more people) and urban clusters (areas that have between 2,500 and 50,000) people. While both of these places count as urban, both of them have pretty different populations. For instance, both the Los Angeles area and Hickory, North Carolina count as urbanized areas, even though both of them have very different population densities. If we went by what the United States Census said, about 81 percent of the United States population lives in an urban area as of 2012, and that seems pretty high. The National Center for Health Statistics uses a different kind of counting system (Pew Research Center). This method splits the United States counties up into three different groups: urban core counties (counties with a million people or more such as Miami-Dade county), suburban counties (smaller metropolitan ares and areas around large cities such as New Haven, Connecticut county), and rural counties (anything else like Elk County, Pennsylvania). This method splits up living areas as one may more easily assume, and for the rest of this piece, I’ll be using this kind of categorization.

In regard to living spaces, at this point, the majority of people (55%) live in suburban areas (Pew Research Center). The next highest category is urban areas, making up 31%. Rural areas take up the rear at 14%. Suburban areas are having the largest rise over the years, while rural areas are taking a hit. In fact, half of the rural counties lost people in the last year. This trend doesn’t seem to be stopping, as the millennials are embracing the suburbs more and more (CNBC). At this point, more millennials are living out in suburbia than in cities. This may be due to housing prices. On average, a person is able to buy a home in a suburban area at a low price than if that person tried to get a similar home out in an urban area. Because millennials are also more saddled with college debt and are less likely to even buy houses outright, they have been taking to the suburbs to be close enough to job opportunities while still having the chance to get a house they can afford.

Millennials are currently moving to the suburbs at a high rate, but what will that mean for the United States? In rural areas, young people are moving to the suburbs or cities for economic opportunities or for college, effectively raising the average age of the residents of the area (University of Pennsylvania). Because of that, the more elder residents get left behind in the youth exodus. Hospitals begin to shut down, and the tax money that they would get through younger residents start to dry up. People in academia have started proposing solutions such as incentivizing people to return to their rural towns. This would help the rural as a whole, as people who went to college or the military while they were gone can bring what they learned back into the community. The urban and suburban areas do not have to worry as much (Governing). With a new influx of money, suburban areas have started producing their own economic opportunities and provide their areas with new sources of tax money. Cities throughout this decade have continued to prosper due to young rural people still moving in (though not at higher rates), suburban workers still working in the city, and immigrants moving in and providing tax income. In all, it will be interesting to see how the United States landscape changes throughout this newfound migration to the suburbs.