July 02, 2014


If you strolled around Wall Street in the 1950s, you’d see hoards of businessmen bustling about, briefcases in hand. Visit today, and the view is a little different: the businessmen are still there, but they’re accompanied by something else – strollers.

Leigh Gallagher, author of “The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving,” and Alan Ehrenhalt, author of “The Great Inversion and the Future of the American City,” say this is a trend that’s reshaping cities all over America.

Once a place where people went to work – not live – younger generations are increasingly choosing to make the inner-city their home.

For the last sixty years, the suburbs have been the place to be: lawns, fences, and a garage for the family car. But among millennials aged 20-35, suburbs are losing their luster. “They spent the last decade sitting on sofas in the suburbs watching Sex and the City and Friends and Seinfeld,” Ehrenhalt says. “Their orientation is to urban life.”

Indeed, millennials are abandoning their cars and choosing metropolitan areas over the white-picket-fenced suburbs of old, even if this means living in significantly smaller spaces. “They are going to settle for less, if they can have the social amenities that the city provides,” says Ehrenhalt. “What they’re not willing to do is live in a thousand square foot home, isolated from the social activity and socialization that they’re looking for.”

While this means that previously dilapidated sections of cities are being revitalized – or, to put it another way, gentrified – it also means that prices are becoming prohibitive for people who had lived there before.  

As a result, suburbia is facing an identity crisis. To appeal to younger generations, suburbs are increasingly restructuring to include the amenities of big cities – yoga studios, high-end coffee shops, and walkable downtown areas. The rising appeal of “hipsturbia,” as the trend has jokingly been named, suggests that while suburbs may not vanish, they will look different.

“I think there will be a slice of the country that does want to live in the suburbs, but it’s going to be a shrinking slice,” Gallagher says. “We are really at the beginning of a big transformation.”

Alan Ehrenhalt, Culture, cities, suburbs, Leigh Gallagher

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