• The Rochesterian in Your Inbox:

    Join 625 other subscribers

There’s been a lot of talk lately about the death of the American suburb.

The 2010 census showed a decline in sprawl, according to USA Today. The population in “exurbs” went down in many areas of the country. The report cited high gas prices, the foreclosure crisis and unemployment, which pushes people to big job centers.

Meanwhile, young people want to live in cities, according to a new survey. Generation Y is more likely to rent and less likely to drive. Millennials like convenience and being connected to neighbors. Having grown up in suburban cul de sacs, they want adventure.

Living in cities has gotten easier. Crime has gone down and cities are focused on revitalizing their downtowns. Some experts predict a shift to city living:

“The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us,” Yale University economist Robert J. Shiller said. Shiller, co-creator of a Standard & Poor’s housing index, is perhaps best known for identifying the risks of a U.S. housing bubble before it actually burst in 2006-2007. Examining the current market, he believes America is now at a turning point, shifting away from faraway suburbs to cities amid persistently high gasoline prices.

Demographic changes also play a role: They include young singles increasingly delaying marriage and children, and thus more apt to rent, and a graying population that in its golden years may prefer closer-in, walkable urban centers.

“Suburban housing prices may not recover in our lifetime,” Shiller said, calling the development of suburbs since 1950 “unusual,” enabled only by the rise of the automobile and the nation’s highway system.

“With the bursting of the bubble, we may be discovering the pleasures of the city and the advantages of renting, investing our money not in a single house but in a diversified portfolio,” he said.

A return to cities could have a big effect on the way we shop and get around. Some predict (pray for) the decline of the shopping mall.

Is there any evidence of suburban decline in Rochester? Not really. Monroe County’s population went up 1.2 percent over the last decade. But Ontario County’s population increased 7.7 percent. That’s evidence of sprawl.

However, there is evidence of urban migration. The City of Rochester’s population began to rebound in the latter half of the decade. Downtown’s population increased 11.5 percent, though poor city neighborhoods emptied out.

Monroe County is so compact, it’s comparable to other communities’ entire cities. Commute times and housing costs are not huge issues. But it will be interesting if people move closer to the core seeking a more urban experience. Do you think this will happen? Maybe it’s happening already.

3 Responses to Death of the Suburb?

  1. April 19, 2012 at 10:10 am Ruth Russell responds:

    I thought it so odd that in comments on posts regarding the building on Cataract street, many of the people cheering the fact that it’s being torn down as a positive because they’re going to build what will look like a strip mall. That’s what they commenters said anyway. I don’t get it – that’s a good thing?

    • April 19, 2012 at 3:36 pm Kristin responds:

      What they’re “building” isn’t even a strip mall. Its a parking lot. We’re tearing down one of the nation’s last historic breweries (in a place where beer is very significant to the town’s history) to pave yet another lot, because a GIANT corporation/NYC-based private equity firm cried poor, stating that they couldn’t afford an additional million or two to save it after WE, the city, gave them nine million dollars. That same private equity firm has indicated that they are planning on exiting Genesee Brewing within the next three years… which has left many people wondering if they’re actually tearing it down to make their list of assets just that much cleaner before exiting. Its not even close to a good thing.

  2. April 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm Kristin responds:

    I grew up in Greece (NY) and it was a miserable experience. None of my friends lived within walking distance and my parents were often too busy to drive me anywhere. All of my socialization outside of school was done over the phone or by instant messaging. I vowed that one day I would leave Rochester never to return. Then, I moved to the city and suddenly realized, that I actually LOVED Rochester. It was only the suburbs that I hated.

    My husband and I own a couple of rental properties in the South Wedge. We’ve been here in the South Wedge for the better part of a decade now, and have consistently been able to increase rent with each new tenant. There is more demand for apartments in our neighborhood now than there has ever been before.

    So yes, I do think there is already a migration back to the city (at least some parts of it) happening in Rochester, and I sincerely hope it continues to happen. Why would anyone choose a crappy “Ryan” new build to something with solid bones that’s been standing a hundred years and will continue to stand for another hundred? And that’s rhetorical, since I already know the answer around here is usually “better school district.” The Rochester City School District really needs some work before we’ll see true reoccupation of our city’s core.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *