As many of our cities and older inner-ring suburbs are being renovated and revitalized, the great challenge of our time — far bigger than urban renewal was in decades past — is to remake our many shoddily-built, far-off exurbs into denser, more- connected, more livable communities. Some of them — the ones that were built as much to keep the building boom going as because people needed to live in them — might be fated to shrink back into small towns or disappear altogether.
In my travels across the country, I’ve heard from people who are in the process of resetting their lives. Young people just out of college tell me that they don’t want their parents’ suburban lifestyle; they’d prefer to find an affordable rental apartment in a city they love where economic opportunities are better. They don’t want to go into hock buying a big house and a big car, just so they can endure a long commute.
Young parents tell me they’ve had to defer their dream of buying a bigger house with a backyard, either because they can’t afford it or don’t qualify for a mortgage. Instead, they’ve decided to stay put and renovate their city apartment or fix up their small house in an older, closer-in suburb. Empty nesters tell me they’ve decided to sell the big house, sometimes for a lot less than they could have gotten for it a few years ago, and buy a smaller condo or house closer to their kids in the city.
These shifts, brought on by economic exigencies, are already adding up to a gradual but enduring change in the way we live — one that will prove every bit as consequential as the move towards suburban living was in the 1950s and 1960s.