Tag Archive for: exurbs

The Biggest Cities Are Past Their Prime

As the centers of media and political discourse, large cities, notably New York, have a unique ability to promote themselves, asserting that dense, core urban areas own the future. Yet in reality, even during good times, and well before the pandemic, Americans have been headed, in increasing numbers, to suburbs, exurbs and to smaller cities. Romantic illusions to past urban recoveries may make people feel better, but they ignore both long-lasting trends and new realities.

People vote with their feet, and today, only a small percentage of Americans live in or around the core urban counties. 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% a year. Despite all the talk of young people and families and others coming “back to the city,” suburbs accounted for about 90% of all U.S. metropolitan growth since 2010; over that time, suburbs and exurbs of the major metropolitan areas gained 2 million net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost 2.7 million.

Much the same can be said about the economy. During the last decade, roughly 80% of all job growth has been in the suburbs. Suburbs also generate the bulk of patents; in fact, three-quarters come from areas with less 3,500 people per square mile, less than half the density associated with urban centers.

The pandemic accelerated these already existing trends. New census numbers show that San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles led the population loss sweepstakes over the past year, while people headed to the Sunbelt, suburbs, exurbs or even small towns.

But the real issue now is not so much the pandemic per se but the rise of dispersed work. Midtown offices are still more than half empty — and that’s not just the pessimist’s way of seeing the glass. While they will recover some, they will likely not replace a large portion of what was lost. Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom suggests that remote workers will ultimately constitute at least 20% of the workforce, more than three times the pre-pandemic rate.

This leaves the large central business districts such as Midtown particularly exposed. As long-time urban booster Richard Florida notes, central business districts represent “the last gasp of the old Industrial age.” He adds, “This idea that you have to pack and stack these office workers and they have to commute in at 9 and leave at 5 and work in cubicle farms— it’s just silly. It is completely out of touch with the way people work.”

Read the rest of this piece at NY Daily News.


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:Steve Guttman via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.

Exurbia Rising

Perhaps nowhere is the gap between America’s cognitive elite and its populace larger than in their preferred urban forms. For nearly a century—interrupted only by the Depression and the Second World War—Americans have been heading further from the urban core, seeking affordable and safe communities with good schools, parks, and a generally more tranquil lifestyle. We keep pushing out despite the contrary desires of planners, academic experts, and some real estate interests. In 1950, the core cities accounted for nearly 24 percent of the U.S. population; today, the share is under 15 percent, according to demographer Wendell Cox. Between 2010 and 2020, the suburbs and exurbs of the major metropolitan areas gained 2.0 million net domestic migrants, while the urban core counties lost 2.7 million.

This is less a growth in “bedroom suburbs,” supplying workers to the urban core, but one that serves multiple employment centers and commercial development. The latest edition of Commuting in America estimates that almost 70 percent of metropolitan-area workers now live and work in the suburbs; trips within suburbs or suburb-to-suburb commutes constitute more than double the commutes with a central business district as the final destination.

The urban fringe is where the American dream is now being re­discovered. But these fringes remain widely disdained in academia, media, and the planning community. This was most evident during the financial crisis when there were widespread media accounts suggesting, among other things, that the exurbs would become “the next slums,” the equivalent of “roadkill” doomed by changing economics and demo­graphics. The New York Times even suggested how to carve up the suburban carcass, with some envisioning that suburban three-car garages would be “subdivided into rental units with street front cafés, shops and other local businesses,” while abandoned pools would become skateboard parks. Yet this is exactly what did not happen.

The Exurban Revolution

In the new In the new Urban Reform Institute report, we identified the fifty high­est‑growth large counties in terms of net domestic migration from 2015 to 2019. These areas grew their population at 7.5 times the rate of the country’s other 3,100 counties during this period and gained 1.8 million net domestic migrants. Out of the fifty, all but seven are located in combined statistical areas (CSAs) of more than 500,000 residents. And each of these outer counties are within or close to a two-hour commute time of a central core county. Key areas include Atlanta, Dallas–Fort Worth, and Orlando.

The key demographic headed to these places is young people in prime family formation years. From 2015 to 2019, these counties saw an increase in twenty-five- to thirty-four-year-olds of 12.8 percent, almost four times the 3.4 percent growth rate in the other counties. The high­est‑growth counties also have a far higher rate of school-age children (five- to fourteen-year-olds) per household than the rest of the nation—0.66 compared to 0.43 for the other counties. The highest growth counties have 3.5 times as many school-age children per household as, for example, Manhattan and San Francisco and 75 percent more school-age children per household than other counties in the United States.

This migration is not a repeat of the “white flight” that drove peripheral growth a half century ago. To be sure, during the great mass suburbanization of the mid-twentieth century, many communities—Levittown and Lakewood are well-known examples—excluded ethnic minorities, providing planners and “smart growth” advocates a rationale to claim that single-family neighborhoods are inherently racist ever since. This assertion is seriously out of date, however. Over the past decade, non-Hispanic whites accounted for less than 4 percent of growth in suburbs and exurbs, while Latinos accounted for nearly half, with Asians, African Americans, mixed race, and other groups making up the balance.

These areas tend to be particularly attractive to well-educated immi­grants. The wildly popular Woodlands planned community near Houston is roughly 30 percent Hispanic, African American, and Asian. In Irvine, California, arguably the most successful planned development, a majority of the population is nonwhite and over 40 percent Asian. In the Tres Lagos development in McAllen, Texas, three-quarters of all buyers are middle-class Hispanics, notes developer Nick Rhodes, for houses that average under $200,000. “We have a young population that is looking for larger homes and safety,” suggests the twenty-seven-year-old Rhodes. “These are people who cannot afford Irving or even Dallas but want parks and good schools.”

Read the rest of this piece at American Affairs Journal.

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.

Homepage photo: Ken Lund via Flickr CC 2.0 License.

Can We Save the Planet, Live Comfortably, and Have Children Too?

The Covid-19 pandemic has brought about what Zillow calls “the great re-shuffling,” as more people head out of major metropolitan areas to work, often remotely, in less dense, even rural areas. The recent surges in urban crime and disorder, in once-placid London and Paris, and once-triumphant New York, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, are likely to make things even tougher for the urban core.

As technology shifts, particularly for white-collar workers, the economic logic behind urban densification and expanded mass transit weakens. Today, nearly 45 percent of the 155 million-strong U.S. labor force is working from home full-time during the pandemic, up from below 6 percent in 2019. When the pandemic ends, this portion will no doubt drop, but experts like Stanford economist Nicholas Bloom suggest that it will remain at least 20 percent of the workforce.

Some 60 percent of U.S. teleworkers, according to Gallup, wish to keep doing so, at least for now. Globally, some 80 percent of workers expressed a desire to work from home at least some of the time. Equally important, many executives believe that this shift will continue, disproportionately affecting our largest, most celebrated business hubs. Both executives and employees have been impressed by surprising gains, and now many companies, banks, and leading tech firms – including Facebook, Salesforce, and Twitter – expect a large proportion of their workforce to continue to do their jobs remotely after the pandemic.

The coming conflict between reality and the green urban agenda

These preferences counter the narrative, so popular with planners and pundits, of the need for greater density and smaller living units in metropolitan areas, amid the expansion of mass transit.

If the densification agenda was weak before, it is almost delusional now. Even before Covid, the largest core-city populations have been stagnant or declining, including fabled American cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. Nationwide since 2010, 90 percent of major metropolitan-area growth took place in the suburbs and exurbs. Jobs followed this pattern as well before Covid started undermining the economic rationale for high-rise office towers and massive new transit investment.

To be sure, some industries may choose to concentrate in the core by preference or tradition, and certain groups, largely the childless and the super-affluent, may remain in the urban playground for reasons of culture, social contacts, or easy access to international airports. But with the rise of remote work, most are likely to labor at home or nearby. They will travel less; upward of 33 percent of all business travel, critical to the health of many inner-city economies, could be permanently lost, as people opt for remote meetings and training sessions.

Read the rest of this piece at Real Clear Energy.


Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the 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.

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Photo credit: Frantik via Wikimedia under CC 3.0 License.