“Town and country must be married and out of this joyous union will spring a new hope, a new life, a new civilization.”
— Ebenezer Howard, 1898”
All cities must evolve over time. Those that fail to do so end up, at best, like Venice, Vienna, or Florence: lifestyle and tourist hubs. This fate now awaits our greatest urban cores if they cannot address the demographic, social, and economic forces transforming the metropolitan landscape.
Urbanism is not dead, but it is morphing into a new form. The most promising cities are currently taking shape on the periphery of the most densely settled areas, which lets them accommodate companies and families in a safer, healthier environment. These new cities are found around economically and demographically dynamic regions, largely in the sunbelt, but also in parts of the Midwest such as around Columbus and Indianapolis.
This is, increasingly, where the action is. Nearly all the country’s fastest-growing counties are on the urban fringe. By 2025, note the consultants at Bain, exurbs will have more people than the inner cities they surround. Peripheral regions have been the big winners in what Zillow calls “the great re-shuffling,” essentially an acceleration of the trend toward suburbs, smaller cities, and even rural areas. In 2020, exurbs enjoyed a 37% growth in migration and price increases twice the national average. The most impressive performance was that of planned communities, whose growth has outpaced other suburban forms.
The New Geographic Order
This peripheral growth well predates the pandemic. In 1950, the core cities accounted for nearly 24% of the U.S. population; today the share is under 15%. In contrast, the suburbs and exurbs grew from housing 13% of the metropolitan population in 1940 to 86% in 2017—a gradual increase of 2% per year. Despite all the talk of moving “back to the city,” commonplace for at least a generation, suburbs have accounted for about 90% of all U.S. metropolitan growth since 2010.
Just as significantly, the suburbs and exurbs—once dismissed largely as “bedrooms” for core cities—now dominate job growth. From 2010 to 2017, over 80% of all job growth was in the suburbs and exurbs. The 50 highest-growth counties had an employment increase of more than 2.5 times that of other counties in 2019.
The pandemic clearly accelerated these trends, in part because of generally high morbidity rates in areas with the highest urban densities. Despite severe lockdowns, places with 10,000 or more people per square mile suffered upward of two times the number of overall adjusted COVID fatalities. Fatalities were generally lower in car-dominated places where people can afford space—the most important key to reducing “exposure density.”
Read the rest of this piece at American Mind.
Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.
Photo: Rown Heuvel via Unsplash.