Are some cities starting to transform into suburbs? Here’s how I see the dynamic (and then I welcome your responses):
Aside from their frequent auto-dependence, suburbs often offer the characteristic of “sameness.”
- Homes in each subdivision all tend to be the same, or at least very similar.
- The same type of people tend to purchase them–one subdivision will be popular with young native-born middle-class families while another will attract more immigrant families and still another older families or empty nesters.
- The nearby retail, chain-based big box or strip centers.
This is often contrast with life in many traditional inner-urban neighbourhoods:
- Homes reflect a variety of architectural styles, stemming from the different decades in which they were built.
- Because of the different eras when various owners bought into the neighborhood, a wide range of people live there.
- Retail also may have evolved gradually, with ownership fragmented into small units, often family owned, which tends to support more independent retailing and fewer chains.
More recently, to combat sprawl, many cities are re-zoning large swaths of industrial or commercial land into high-density residential. But what gets built in many ways resembles the suburbs in character. Buildings and units look very similar; everyone buys in at the same time so will tend to be of similar backgrounds; and the large retail chains scoop up the retail spaces. Put all this together and you get a suburb in the city, even if the residents take transit to work and live in condos.
My question to urbanistas is whether this matters?
My thought is that it could. Recent research on Generation Y suggests that this cohort group prefers to consume from smaller, independent businesses and organizations. This new generation of talent may not be as attracted to vertically-oriented suburbs as they are to more authentic neighbourhoods. Moreover, if the knowledge economy really needs creative inspiration, are you going to get it in these new milieus?
On the other hand, this style of development may be the only way to quickly offer more housing options in the city. Perhaps it’s not ideal, but it’s the way cities will develop.