September 15, 2020


Let's Stop Shaming the SuburbsResearch shows that Americans are happy living there, and critiques that rely on outdated tropes are polarizing. (Samuel J. Abrams, 9/09/20, Dispatch)

Data from AEI's Survey on Community and Society--conducted before the COVID-19 pandemic--shows that socialization patterns were as high in the suburbs as city centers and that Americans rated suburbs as very desirable places to live. For instance, when respondents are asked about their satisfaction with the number of friends they have in their neighborhood, 72 percent of city dwellers and 72 percent of suburbanites say they are satisfied. This number ticks up for small-town residents (74 percent) and those in rural areas (75 percent).

Relatedly, when asked about how well one knows one's neighbors, 56 percent of urbanites say the know them well, but so do 48 percent of those in suburbs. When asked about feeling isolated from others, 37 percent of city dwellers say sometimes or often, which is not very different from suburbanites who feel lonely 39 percent of the time. Rural Americans felt the most isolated at 42 percent--which is again only a handful more than in suburbs. These are minor differences and if urban life is the benchmark, suburban life is anything but isolated and anti-social.

What about overall quality of life? In this case, while the numbers are still close, suburbanites show the highest overall satisfaction, with 87 percent rating their area as a good or excellent place to live. For city dwellers, it was 74 percent. (Small town and rural residents were in between those two.) Moreover, comparable numbers survey respondents in cities, suburbs, and towns all respond that local amenities--place to buy groceries, be social and entertained, and have a meal or a drink--are close by; only rural Americans are truly missing easy access to these local institutions. So, it is hard for me to accept statements that the suburbs are hellish, empty, and anti-social places considering huge numbers of Americans rank them a good places to live with ample resources and find that they are socially happy there. 

And, I should note, with the advent of COVID-19, suburbs are even more desired today. New survey data from AEI collected in the midst of the pandemic shows respondents finding the suburbs vastly more desirable, and their interest in cities plummeting. Just 13 percent of Americans today state that they would like to live in a city, while 29 percent of Americans said that they would ideally reside in a suburban area, 29 percent in a small town, and 28 percent said a rural area. 

When current urbanites are asked about city living, just 34 percent stated that they would like to remain in a city, while the rest were fairly evenly split among suburbs, towns, and rural areas. In contrast, majorities of those who reside in suburban and rural areas along with small towns all stated that that they would not move from their urban type. Cities are now out of favor across the board and the suburbs are not. 

Posted by at September 15, 2020 12:00 AM