The post-World War II American dream of owning a home in the suburbs with a spacious yard for the 2.5 kids and dog is becoming less attractive when seen through the reality of long commutes and weekends consumed with yardwork.
Leigh Gallagher, assistant managing editor of Fortune and author of the book "The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Going," writes that suburbs and their further communities, called "exurbs," are losing population in most parts of the country as homeowners favor metropolitan areas. Part of the reason has to do with the housing bust and its devastating effects on suburban communities, she writes, and part has to do with a cultural shift.
Suburbs snooze and lose
Since World War II, every generation saw more population growth in the suburbs than the cities, but the most recent U.S. Census marks a reversal of that trend. The 51 largest metro areas in the country, all with populations of more than 1 million, saw population growth of 1.12 percent between July 2010 and July 2011. By contrast, the suburbs of those metro areas grew 0.97 percent last year.
William Frey of the Brookings Institution, who analyzed the Census data, told Reuters that he would have expected the improving economy to assist more people in moving from the city to the suburbs. During the housing crisis, many homeowners found they owed more on their mortgage than their house was worth, forcing them to stay put.
Foreclosures and distressed properties were much more prevalent in the suburbs, while the housing market in most metro areas remained fairly stable. Gallagher maintains that this is only part of the disillusionment with suburbs. Homeowners are also tired of spending most of their days in cars, driving to work or kids' activities. In metropolitan areas, they are willing to trade space for convenience.
But is it permanent?
Now that the market is recovering, rising prices are giving homeowners positive equity, allowing them to sell. As people begin moving again, Frey said time will tell if the trend away from suburbs is a permanent one. He suggested that the downturn in the economy, which caused many young people to delay marriage, kids and homebuying, may have been responsible for the reluctance to move to the suburbs.
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