Can cities and suburbs ever get along?

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You can’t convince me otherwise. The headline on this Associated Press story was filled with a backhanded slap at people who live in the suburbs, probably from a city slicker editor. I know who you are.

Now that we’ve settled the health care issue, we can turn to the war between people who live in the ‘burbs vs. those who live in the city. Both, we presume, have their advantages and in the end, people are free to live where they want to live. So why is there always the subtext that people in the ‘burbs should move to the city, or that some people in the city would find a better life in the ‘burbs?

The Associated Press story isn’t a lifestyle story that says young people have chosen a life because of its quality, per se; they’ve chosen it based on economic realities, which has often been the most influential factor in deciding where to live.

College debt, lousy jobs prospects, and available housing has forced many people to choose the city over the suburbs. Their generation is known as Generation Rent.

“I will never live in the suburbs,” said Jaclyn King, 28, of Denver told the Associated Press.

“I much prefer living in the city,” Symm Vafeades said. “There’s just a lot more you can do without having to drive everywhere.”

The good news, Symm and Jaclyn, is you don’t have to. Nobody’s making you move to the suburbs if you don’t want to.

But, the story points out, the economics that has made cities attractive again, can just as easily push people back out….


They point to practical considerations such as better schools in the suburbs, continued government tax breaks for home ownership and subsidies for travel in rural areas, as well as rapidly rising downtown rents, that are likely to push young adults to the suburbs once they sort out decisions about jobs, kids and finances.

Some things never change.

  • John O.

    The “City v. Suburb” debate to me is akin to “Mac v. PC.” Each has its own advantages and disadvantages.

    To each their own.

  • John P.

    We live in the suburbs. We chose that because at that time we could buy a new house out there for the same price as an older house on the north side where we had rented. Property taxes were lower in the suburbs. My job was and was in the ‘burbs, so my daily travel distance would have gone up if I lived in the city. We were planning a family, so then there’s North Side vs. Maple Grove schools came into our thinking. That house in the suburbs was new construction with all the latest insulation, heating, and A/C systems so energy consumption there was going to be considerably lower than a 1910 house in the city. The new house would require no major maintenance for many years so a lot of cost saved there. It seemed like a no-brainer to us.

    Now that the nest is empty, we go to church and find most of our entertainment in the city. I honestly would like to live there, but still can’t afford a neighborhood I would like to live in. Then, I would still need to commute out to the suburbs for work.

    I think we saved money and the earth by living in the suburbs.

  • bsimon

    I think its a bit more complex than just city vs suburbs. An often ignored aspect is the demographic cycle. That being that young people starting families are often forced to leave their home neighborhoods because there just isn’t enough housing stock available. South Minneapolis, richfield, Medina, etc grew in the postwar years when returning vets were pursuing the American dream – a house, kids & a car. When their kids – the boomers – grew up those neighborhoods were largely full, forcing new development further from the city centers. Now the boomers’ parents have been leaving the close-in neighborhoods, making older housing stock available at affordable prices in traditional, walkable neighborhoods. In Mpls there’s a demographic boom of kindergardeners that is filling the schools to capacity as new families buy up & renovate that old housing stock.

  • John P.

    The problem with this debate is that it is looking at things backwards. It’s not living in the city that is necessarily more energy efficient, it’s more compact metro areas that require less travel and that cat is far, far out of the bag.

    Make the cities a desirable place and affordable place to live. Get jobs down there. Haven’t I been reading for years that most job growth is in the suburbs?

    If you build it they will come.

  • Diana

    When I got to the line “Texas dominated the list of the 15 fastest-growing large cities from April 2010 to July 2011, including Round Rock, Austin, Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Denton, McAllen and Carrollton.”, I questioned the overall methodology of the story. I’m a former Dallas resident. Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Denton, McAllen and Carrollton, while defined in this story as fast-growing “cities”, are also all outer suburbs of Dallas-the equivalent of a Bloomington, Eden Prairie, Woodbury. And Round Rock is a suburb of Austin. So in the case of these “cities,” the growth is really in the outlying area of a major urban core.

  • Tim

    Bsimon’s point about the demographic cycle is an important one. Many of the people I know in their late 20’s/early 30’s who live in the cities rent or bought their homes in the last several years from people in their 60’s or 70’s (or their children, in some cases) who have retired elsewhere, moved into senior housing, or have passed on. This trend will hit the suburbs eventually too, but it will take a while yet.

    Personally, I bought my home in the suburbs because it was where I could afford to buy a home during the housing bubble. Homes in Minneapolis and St. Paul were just too far out of reach, even ones that required a lot of work (not than I am handy to begin with). If I were buying a house now, I would be looking in the cities for sure, as it is closer to what I want. The suburbs for me was all about economic realities, rather than lifestyle.

    One thing that doesn’t get talked about as much in these stories, though, is that people *are* still moving to the suburbs — it’s just not the same people that used to do so. There are definitely more people of different socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds than there were ten or fifteen years ago, and the suburbs are starting to change as a result. While elementary schools in Minneapolis are looking at capacity issues, for example, elementary schools in Burnsville are trying to figure out how to accommodate more ESL students. I think the changes are fine, personally (and, more, importantly, inevitable whether one likes them or not), but there has certainly been some friction from others who don’t share my views.

    The suburbs are here to stay and aren’t going anywhere. But they will certainly not be like what we traditionally think of as suburbia.

  • allie

    If we could’ve afforded a city home, we would’ve bought one in a heartbeat. Instead, my parents retired, we bought their first-ring suburban home (there’s your demographic shift), and really do love it–we know the school district, and enjoy our neighbors a great deal. The only downside: No sidewalks. A big minus for us former city-dwellers.