Is Your Suburb Dying?

Is Your Suburb Dying?Have you seen the death of suburbia series from Business Insider? The sensationalist headline is a bit overblown, but they do make a compelling case. We’ve lived in downtown Portland since 2007, so we’re a bit out of touch with how suburban life is these days. The whole Portland metro is doing pretty well, though. The Portland suburbs seem to be thriving and it is very busy there. This area is probably not the right place to look for the death of suburbia. My question today is – How is your suburb doing? Is it dying like Business Insider reported? Or is this another click-bait headline?

Escape from the suburb

Personally, I never really liked living in the suburbs. The main selling point is that you can get a house with a yard for a reasonable price. However, you’d have to drive everywhere. The neighborhood is quiet and stable, but there aren’t a lot of fun activities unless you have a family of your own. I grew up in a suburban town and it was fine when I was young.

After I graduated from college, I moved to Portland for work. My old employer’s “campus” was in the suburbs so I lived in a nearby apartment for a year. Once I got familiar with the area, I decided to move downtown with a roommate because there were a lot more fun activities in town. I really enjoyed it because friends and co-workers can come hang out at our cool downtown apartment before and after going out. It was much more fun than living in the suburbs and it wasn’t that much more expensive. I lived in downtown Portland for a few years and moved back to the suburbs when we got married and purchased a house.

Living in the suburbs was nice because it was close to my work, but we never enjoyed it as much as living in town. Our 2,000 sq ft house was too big for just the two of us. Mrs. RB40 thought her family members would visit often, so we purposely looked for a house that had a guest room.  They never visited. We also put off having a kid. In 2007, Mrs. RB40 got a job in the urban core so we decided to move downtown again. We’ve really enjoyed living downtown over the last decade. It just suits us better. We drive less, get out more, and connect with the local community better. The suburb wasn’t bad, but we just like living in the city better.

We’ll have to move soon, though. Our condo is starting to get too small. RB40Jr recently turned 6 and he will want his own room soon. Right now his room does triple duty as my office and a guest room for my mom. She stays with us 6-8 months out of the year. Luckily, we already have a plan for a short distance relocation. We can move into our rental home (duplex) and still be in the urban core. It’d be a lot harder for a young family to find an affordable house in the urban core area. That’s the main reason why people move out to the suburbs. Families with kids want a bigger home with a yard.

Are the suburbs declining?

Are the suburbs really dying or is it just a phase? Many baby boomers are downsizing and moving to the urban core. The Millenials also love living in a more energetic environment. I think the big driver really is the Millennial generation who are more frugal than previous age groups. They’ve been through the financial crisis and they don’t value a big house as much as the previous generations. However, once the Millenials start to have children, I’m pretty sure most of them will head back to the suburbs. There are other factors that are diminishing the suburbs, though. Americans are changing the way we live. Let’s go through them one by one.

Moving toward efficient living space

The average size of new single family homes is still growing every year. The Census Bureau reported the average size of a new house in the US reached an all time high of 2,687 square feet. However, a lot of Millenials are still struggling with debt and they can’t afford these big houses. Young Millenials prefer to live in apartments and they care more about saving money than buying a big house. They don’t mind living in a smaller space because they prefer to spend money on experiences. I can understand that. A smaller living space is perfectly fine as long as you can go out and have fun outside.

I don’t like big houses either because it is more expensive to live there. You pay more for utilities, insurance, property tax, and maintenance. We used to spend our weekends weeding the backyard instead of going out.  You’d also need to buy more furniture and toys to fill up the big house. How many garages are used to store cars these days? It’s mostly filled with stuff. I prefer a more efficient living space in a location with a lot of amenities. That’s why the Walk Score is important to us. Yesterday, I walked to the gym, the library, and the grocery store. In the suburbs, I’d have to drive to all these locations. My fitness improves just by living in an area with a high Walk Score. Many Millenials agree with me and they don’t want to own a car anymore. You can’t do that in the suburbs.

Companies are heading back to the city

This one is news to me. Companies are closing traditional suburban office parks and relocating to the city. Young talents want to live in cities and companies are realizing that they need to accommodate them. Wow, Millennials are really driving changes. They are the biggest segment of the population and outnumber every other generation in the US. How did that happen?

I’ve noticed that employment has improved a lot in Portland over the last few years, but I thought that was due to remote work. Maybe companies really are moving back to the city. I haven’t looked for a job lately so I don’t really know. 😉

Suburban malls are in crisis

I don’t have any recent anecdotal stories here. We haven’t been to a suburban mall in ages. I know that anchor-stores like Macy’s and Sears are closing hundreds of locations. This kind of closing could easily kill off a mall. Once the anchor store closes, the other smaller stores see less traffic and they eventually go out of business, too.

These days, Americans increasingly prefer to shop online and malls are getting less and less popular. That’s too bad because I feel somewhat nostalgic about going to the mall. It was enjoyable when I was a kid. It’s not all bad news, though. High-end luxury malls in touristy area are doing well. However, that leaves out most regular suburbs so the integral part of the suburbia experience near you might be going away soon. Oh, outlet malls are still doing pretty well though.

Chain restaurants are less popular

I never liked eating at casual dining chain restaurants like Applebee’s or Red Lobster. The only time we eat at one is when we’re traveling. At home, we prefer to go out to local non-chain restaurants. These restaurants have more personality and the food is more authentic. Luckily, Portland is full of small independent restaurants so we have plenty of choices. Well, maybe not so lucky for the restaurants because even good ones go out of business all the time. It’s a tough environment for restaurants here.

Anyway, many casual dining chains are going down. That’s where suburbanites go to eat. Fewer choices mean they will have to drive into town to find good restaurants. Perhaps more family owned restaurants will fill the holes that the chains leave. Who knows?

Cities are safer now

Violent crime has been falling for decades and cities are much safer now. There is still a lot of petty crime in our area, but I feel relatively safe. We walk down the street every day and I’ve never felt threatened. There are also a lot more places to live in cities now. Many condos and apartments were built and renovated over the last 2 decades in Portland. The city feels lived in and we have a lot fewer scary deserted streets. There are a lot of homeless people here, but they generally mind their own business. I’ve never had any problem with them.

Crumbling infrastructure

The roads and bridges connecting suburbia America are crumbling. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers, the US needs to invest $3.6 trillion to update our infrastructure by 2020. Yikes! That’s a lot of money. Our roads are pretty bad too and there are pot holes everywhere after this long winter. The DOT patched up a bunch of pot holes recently so it’s a bit better now.

The traffic is getting really bad in Portland. When I first moved here 20 years ago, we only had traffic jams during rush hour. Now, we have traffic jams a lot more often. Luckily, I don’t have to drive much anymore so I don’t have to worry about it too much.

Golf courses are shutting down

Okay, I have no opinion here. I don’t play golf and I don’t really think it’s an integral part of the suburbs. How is this even related?

Are the suburbs really dying?

Whew, it seems like suburbia is going through some tough changes. That’s not really apparent in our local area because the economy is doing well here and the housing market has been great. The Portland suburbs seem to be doing just fine. The traffic really sucks, but that’s just life in a city that doesn’t want to build roads. I don’t think the suburbs changed that much over the 20 years that I’ve been here.

The urban core, on the other hand, improved a ton. There are a lot more residential buildings, great restaurants, and vibrant food carts. Portland State University is expanding and renovating the south side of town. Public transportation has improved a lot, too. When I first moved here, we had one light rail line. Now we have 4 light rail lines, 2 street car lines, and the buses. There are a lot more music, film, cultural, brewing, and other kind of festivals than 20 years ago. Portland has grown a lot since we moved here.

What about your area? Has it changed since you lived there? Is your local suburban area dying or is this just another piece of “news” that’s been overblown?

Investing locally

As a side note, I’m having a big conundrum here. When we move into our rental home, should we sell our condo? The property price is going up and it might be wise to hold onto it. Mrs. RB40 really likes it and if she had a choice, she would never move. However, it is not going to produce positive cash flow if we rent the condo out. The HOA also has some restrictive rental rule like a $600 move in fee! (The HOA board went nuts a few years back.) We’ll probably just sell it to make life simpler and invest the money in dividend stocks or Realty Shares.

Image credit: Flickr Richard Elzey

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

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63 thoughts on “Is Your Suburb Dying?”

  1. Interestingly, we are seeing a demographic trend among older millennials that points to the group increasing their suburban purchase of homes in the suburbs. Specifically on the coasts but also in major cities such as Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta and Denver.

    • That’s not too surprising. Everyone wants a little more space when they have kids. Only the minority will continue to live in the city after they have kids. You can get a lot more space for the same money in the burb.

  2. I don’t know if the suburbs here in Boston are dying as it’s difficult for me to venture out of the city without a car, but it seems there’s been an influx of city dwellers. Luxury condos keep going up and people seem to be willing to pay quite exorbitant prices of $1000+/square feet for them. I’ve been here for over a decade and the past year, the subway has been much more crowded during rush hour. I’ve been wondering if we should move out to the suburbs for cheaper living, but I love all the things to do in the city and the close proximity of everything.

  3. This is extremely true in the rust belt and industrial Midwest cities. However, in Chicago, most but maybe not all of the suburbs are growing while the city is shrinking (the poor are leaving). Many stale Midwest cities (i.e., Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee, etc) are growing their suburbs at the detriment to the population of the city limits as well. What most of these cities lack is regional planning which Indy did quite well. Are the suburbs dying? Not quite yet but millennials will determine the future of the Baby Boomer suburbs.

  4. If construction activity and skyrocketing housing prices are any indication, then suburbia is thriving in King County, WA.

    I try to avoid the shopping mall at all costs, but on those occasions when I do step into one, it’s jam packed and parking is difficult to find.

  5. In Germany suburbs are still thriving. More want to move into the suburbs for space reasons. Portugal is going the other way around. People are definitely moving to the city centers as they get rehabbed (part of what I do).

    Great post, keep it up!

  6. Ok I live in Seattle and it has never ever looked worse. It is absolutely heartbreaking and frustrating. It is growing at an unbelievable pace as well as our property taxes to try to “help” the astoundingly growing number of homeless people who are moving here as well. I actually just moved to the suburbs on purpose. So we are actually visiting malls more and now once in a while going to a chain restaurant. It’s much better than wading thru heroin needles and pee and having homeless people yell at you. I’m sure people have seen our tent cities in the news and the announcements from the mayor treading water. It’s so so sad. I can’t wait to retire and move far far away.

    • Our homeless population exploded over the last few years as well. It’s tough when the cost of living increases so quickly. We have a lot of tent cities too, but it seems to be better now. I’m sure we’ll see more in the summer again.

  7. I live on the edge of a town with only about a thousand residents and I eventually want to move even more into the country. I grew up on a farm in the country and I don’t think I’ll ever stray to far from my roots. I prefer listening to nature over the sound of traffic and police sirens.
    There is a city with a population of about 60k people about 25 minutes away. Violent crime and drug arrests have been increasing there and the mall is always closing and opening up new stores. People are moving to the suburbs of that city to escape, so at least in my area of the country, suburbs are alive and doing well.

  8. Here in Houston the suburbs are thriving, growing and expanding and the malls are packed in our area. The wealthy downtown areas of Houston are popular but it takes too long to drive around in downtown Houston. The suburbs are fairly self contained and easy to get everything you need.

  9. In LA, I think suburbs are still thriving. More and more people want to move into the suburbs for better schools, better safety, and more room to live in.

    Maybe it’s just LA, because people love driving from place to place even if it takes a few hours.

    • I hate driving in LA. It takes forever to get anywhere. Here, we could arrive anywhere in about 30 minutes. Much easier this way. I really hate traffic jam.

  10. I skimmed the primary article in the Business Insider series looking for census data to show a contraction in suburbs vs major cities. I didn’t find it.
    I googled for “population trends urban centers versus suburbs”
    And surprisingly one of the first topic is the Business Insider article
    Americans Moving to suburbs rather than cities :
    It cites 2015 census results and then says: “the population is growing faster in suburban areas than in urban counties”


    Next I look for Portland specific figures and I find the wiki articles for Portland and its suburb Beaverton. For 1990, 2000, 2010 and 2015 the growth rates are 19%, 21%, 10%, 8.3% for Portland and 66%, 48%, 13%, 7.5% for Beaverton. Portland grew marginally faster than Beaverton from 2010 to 2015. But hardly enough of a difference to declare the death of Beaverton. But of course thats just one suburb. I didn’t check Vancouver or Gresham.

  11. None of this matches my current experience (in the Central Valley of CA). Sacramento has a nice urban core, but the cities further south? Not so much! There has been a lot of work done to improve urban areas, but I don’t really see people moving into these areas in large numbers. The urban core in our community is not very nice. Lots of crime, terrible schools, lack of opportunity, etc. The suburbs are alive and well here.

  12. When we are living in the States, we live in a very expensive city. Singles and young couples all live in the city, but families need to choose: get the house in the “far suburbs” they can afford, get the house in the “near burbs” they can’t quite afford, or stay in the city and rent. Most families still choose the far burbs for the affordability and the space, and spend the next decade complaining about the commute and how bored they are.

    After renting 2 years in the near burbs (trying it out), we decided to rent in the city. Studies have consistently shown that long commutes make people unhappy, no matter how big their affordable house is (housework, by the way, was also a top reason for unhappiness). We’ve found this to be true. Bonus: renting in a professional building means maintenance is taken care of! And there’s a pool, a gym …. In the end it’s a quality of life decision much more than a financial one.

    Of course if you’re retired this is a moot point!

  13. We lived in the city (Houston) up until we had our second kid and then it was time to move back to the burbs were you get more for your money and the grandparents are close by to babysit while we are at work (this is priceless!). That said, I much prefer city life for many of the same reasons as you. Everything is close by and there is always something going on. The one down side to city life for me is that to live rather affordably(at least in Houston) one almost has to buy a townhome/condo, and I HATE HOA’s. They have way too much control over what should be your investment.

    On a side note, I went to Portland on business some years ago and I loved it there. we stayed in downtown right next to a 24 hour fitness and I remember walking to the grocery store and to Voodoo Donuts! What a great city!

    • Free babysitting! That’s great.
      I don’t like HOA either. There are too many restrictions, but I can understand.
      Portland has grown quite a bit. There are many more restaurants and specialty shops downtown now.

  14. Very interesting article, Joe. I don’t think the suburbs are dying where I live. In fact, it’s the nearby ‘big’ city that is dying. Manufacturing is out and the city councilmen are not wise enough to know the city needs to change with the times. No jobs = no reason to move there. It’s sad. But they can change it around if they wise up!

  15. We live downtown, but in a very small town (about 100.000 inhabitants). Still, I would love to move either in the country or at least in a more ‘peaceful’ area.

    The suburbs around here aren’t ‘dying’, in fact, more and more people prefer to move away from the city because it’s cheaper. You can buy or rent a nice house, 2-3 bedrooms and a big yard (big selling point, I’d pay extra to have a backyard!) in the suburbs, for the same price you would pay for a small apartment in the city. If you have a family, moving to a more affordable area is convenient, even if you have to drive or use public transportation to get to work.

  16. Well, from my perspective the death of the suburb is greatly exaggerated. My own suburb is booming, with massive development projects and quickly growing property prices (mine went up over 20% last year).

    Are malls dying? Not two miles from my house, a NEW mall is being built where an old one was recently torn down. The new mall fallows a new model — with condos/rentals on the top floors and shops on the lower level.

    I see lots of developments following this model, which matches a more dense urban model, but doesn’t quite have the outrageous prices of living downtown.

    And I think that’s key — prices. People move to the suburbs so they can *afford* real estate they want… That might be a house with a yard, or just a condo too.

    Right now, a huge number of downtown Seattle/Bellevue condos are being bought up by Chinese investors. The average price in my nearest urban area from 1 million to about 14 million. The average price is probably about 1.5 million.

    How many people have the jobs to afford that kind of urban life?

    • Seattle is booming, for sure. I haven’t seen the new malls. Maybe we’ll check them out when we visit next time. The housing price seems really crazy. Portland condos are much more affordable. Well, the older ones are.

  17. Our local suburbs (I live semi rural, but drive through suburb areas often) appear to be doing very well in Delaware. However, the biggest employer in Delaware has been laying off like crazy and is getting ready to move, so that may be about to change. Then again we have one of the lowest tax rates and almost non existent property tax. According to the narrative all the retirees are moving here and buying in the suburbs. Wilmington Delaware, pretty much the only major city, has some wealthy areas but large chunks are places I wouldn’t feel safe after dark. From where I sit I don’t see the urban thing happening here so much as the state as a whole perhaps having issues.

  18. Personally, I don’t think I would like living in a city as it seems too crowded or congested. Besides I like it quite, cities are just too noisy for me and driving and parking is a pain. There is always some protest going-on in downtown, not to mention all the homeless problem and crime.

    We love our suburbia. We live in a suburbs of Portland and we love it. We have all the shopping and restaurants around us. The parks and the trails to explore and don’t have to worry about getting mugged.

    Most of the stores are at walking distance. The only time we go to downtown is to watch a concert or Trail Blazer’s game.

    I think the suburbs you lived in was a bit isolated near Intel but even then that area is getting better and more stores and activities are available now.

    Yes, houses are expensive and we will likely downsize at some point, probably into a townhouse but it would still be in the suburbs. You should come and visit the suburbs, things have changed since you lived there.

    • The protests are very annoying when you have to drive somewhere.
      I don’t think we have a mugging problem in Portland. It’s mostly petty crime like vandalism. Those aren’t good, but not really dangerous either.

  19. I live in central Ohio, and the suburbs seem growing the last 15 years. I grew up in a country, and like living in the suburbs for more space. I guess it’s a personal preference.

  20. I live in the South, our suburb is booming. I hate suburban life too, but my job is only 3.5 miles away and the schools are excellent. We hardly drive at all, I bike to work daily, even though I am the ONLY one doing it.

    If we were still in the upper Midwest where we grew up, yeah, you’d see more of this. Nashville, however, is growing at a similar pace to Austin, TX. Our house has spiked in value, it’s seriously strange to watch, given where we grew up.

  21. I grew up in suburban Detroit, and now live in suburban Rochester, NY. Both are Metros with slow population growth.

    Both have some suburbs that are struggling, and others growing. In Detroit, some of the older inner-ring suburbs are reviving, it seems. Rochester has some ares of the city that are doing quite well, but I think it is that parts of the city that have always been doing well. The city has some affordable housing, but the best areas are quite expensive (by our standards. Cheap by Portland standards, I would guess).

    Both places share a problem – Much better schools in the suburbs. I’ve known some folks in Rochester who live in the city, then move out when children reach school age (or send their kids to private schools).

    The corner of the suburb we live in is still doing lots of new houses. It has led to a reconfiguration/growth of the school district.

    Housing prices don’t appreciate much in general here. Rochester didn’t have much of the boom or bust in housing prices. Our 1950 sq.ft. house was purchased for $180k 8 years ago, and might sell for $200k today, with a finished basement and air conditioning added.

    – Jeff V

  22. So why do you plan to move to the rental house if your wife doesn’t want to? I’m in NYC but I’m not in Manhattan…we’re in Queens and in a part that is not yet “hip.” I say this because most just assume Manhattan and hip parts of Brooklyn when they hear NYC. I feel like we have the best of both worlds in a way. It’s part city part suburbs. And I actually work much deeper into the suburbs in Long Island. Part of me thinks about moving there but I don’t like having to drive everywhere, the strip malls, etc. It’s also a little less diverse out there…

    • Basically, we need more space. It’s getting too crowded here in our 2 bedroom condo. I guess we can put it off 3-4 more years.

  23. Mom said her house was a bit crowded for four years. They put a screened porch on the back of the house, which gave everyone some breathing room. There wasn’t a good way to add to the house and she didn’t want to move. Then, oldest sister went off to college and things were fine. Now, she rattles around in that same house as a happy widow with all her family memories within the walls. It was a stop gap but made sense.
    As for cities, I hate condo fees and the occasional assessment. But they offset income, you don’t have to budget for a new roof or sewer line collapse as you’d have with a single family rental. No gutters to clean, no trees to trim, no garage door opener to replace. For a rental, especially from a distance, the condo can still be a good hedge against inflation.
    I think suburbs are re-energized when a light rail station shows up. Otherwise, the new ones are good for ten or fifteen years. Then the city moves farther out and the middle ring of burbs goes down. Until light rail….
    Nice post. I like how it relates to quality of life decisions, investment, and aging parents to care for.

  24. To answer your question, as it always seems to come back to real estate, it’s all about location, location, location.

    As you stated in your article, the Portland area and it’s surrounding suburbs continues to do well. I live in West Linn and our suburb continues to attract more and more people. Most of the growth continues to be new homes (little to no commercial development).

    I also own a number or single-family detached rental homes in the Portland suburbs of West Linn, Tualatin, Wilsonville, and Sherwood. All those suburbs continue to have tremendous growth (including commercial development in Tualatin, Wilsonville, and Sherwood). As you are probably aware Joe, vacancy continues to run practically at a 0% rate. After not finding any more rentals homes to purchase the last few years that financially makes sense with the tremendous run-up in prices, I’m actually taking an old lot I bought back in 2009 that I was going to perhaps build my retirement home on and have now rezoned it and am going to build a duplex on it and keep it as a rental.

    So to answer your question, I don’t see the suburbs dying out much in my area at all. Of course with all things being cyclical, we may change and see a decline in the future.

    • The Portland metro is growing tremendously. I hope we can continue, but we’ll see. Traffic is getting really bad, though.

  25. The suburbs here in Charleston are THRIVING! Builders are building and home prices are going nuts. Golf courses are doing well too. Restaurants are doing fantastic, but mostly local ones – not chains. And we have a TON of great local restaurants here in this area. We don’t have a decent mall within a two-hour drive, but hey, with Amazon Prime, I don’t feel the need to go into a mall anyways. There are some (also thriving) shopping centers with mixes of upscale and reasonable items. They seem to satisfy the needs of this are pretty well.

  26. Have you thought about going the AirBnB route? Or another short-term rental type situation? If Jr is 6, and you move in the next few years, then you could possibly move back to your condo in less than 12 years if you wanted.

    Thanks for your writing, I enjoy reading your articles.

    • We can’t do short term rental. The minimum rental time is one month. That’s the HOA rule. Maybe I need to get on the board and change this. It’s good when you’re a resident, but it makes renting your unit a difficult proposition.

  27. “In Cleveland, downtown is seemingly all banks and law firms…” Yep, the tallest building on Lake Erie is a bank, and in most US towns and cities, banks dominate even the shortest skylines – Evanston, WY is a great example. Court houses & state capitols used to be our high points, now it’s banks…ugh. At least KeyBank retained the historic lobby of its tallest building on Lake Erie (and I love how it dwarfs Huntingon’s shorter tower – fewer billions in assets). Shopping malls are being redeveloped into homogeneous town centers – these are the ‘burbs’ attempt to regain some soul & walkability, albeit for no more than 4 square blocks, always built with heaps of parking. Can’t wait to see autonomous vehicles reshape our landscape that was built for driver-ful cars.

    • Now that you mention it, the tallest buildings in Portland are also banks.
      I haven’t seen any of these shopping mall redevelopment. It sounds interesting and I hope it works out.

  28. Huh, this is an interesting point. I suppose in many ways people are being drawn back to the cities. I, for one, am drawn more to the country. I’ve always preferred open spaces, nature, and quiet. You can’t get many of these things in the city. 😉 I do live in a suburb myself, and it’s okay. For me it’s a compromise between living on a farm and enjoying the convenience of a city. One day I’d like to get our own plot of land and get away from everything, though.

    • I’d like to try living in the country for a while too. It’d have to be in the right location, though. I think it would be a better fit for us than the suburb.

  29. Condo or strata fees as they are called in Canada are a definite disincentive as are the petty rules like how high your dog can be at the shoulder or no dog at all. There was that Seinfeld episode . . . Levies can arise and can be substantial. We paid two totalling about $10,000 in the five years we lived in a townhouse.


    • Wow, sorry to hear about your fines. Our HOA is pretty reasonable for the most part. The only thing I don’t like is the aversion to renting out units. They want to keep more residential units and they make renting a tough proposition.

      • Maybe I wasn’t clear. We didn’t pay any fines for having too tall dogs. One of the levies was for a new roof and the other for outside painting. You’re right about the rule against renting; many condo rules limit or restrict this. They may allow 2 rentals which are used up by long term tenants. It has also been my experience that although the strata association is supposed to be responsible for outside maintenance repairs, unless it is an emergency it can be difficult to get anything done.

  30. Being from the already retired spectrum, I found your article a very interesting. As we are little town born and bred, we do look at things differently. However is it fun to consider other points of view on suitable lifestyles.

    Thanks for the awareness of events in your area.

  31. Around me in Cleveland SOME suburbs are declining but others are growing like weeds. The ones with entrenched politicians who are still operating like its 1960 and are relying on their past reputation are in the toilet. The ones that are run efficiently and have solid plans for growth are doing well.

    While business HQs are moving back downtown, there is only so much you can move. In Cleveland, downtown is seemingly all banks and law firms; the blue collar jobs are not downtown. In my opinion, that is not a recipe for sustainability or growth. For instance, my suburb contains, among other industries, a major Ford plant as well as two major chemical manufacturers employing thousands of people; none of these could be moved downtown.

    The golf course issue is irrelevant to the strength of the suburbs. In the US, golf is ridiculously expensive, both to play and maintain (compare to the UK where you can join some of the brand name clubs for a song). It is also hard. As a result, you have to put a lot of time and money into being good, that is going to limit the number of players. Also, there was a HUGE bubble created by Tiger Woods where players and courses were popping up like weeds in the late 90s/early 2000s; I would argue any pullback is just a return to equilibrium…but I do not see much correlation between the strength of suburbs and golf.

    The last thing, on average, city public schools are garbage (there are obvious outliers within each district). As a result, until that changes, people will continue to move to the suburbs (or pay for private schools) to get the better quality schools. Just looking at my friends, most lived in Cleveland until their kids were school aged at which point they moved out.

    • Good points about the business HQs and schools. Some businesses suits suburb better than the city. We have some manufacturing business here in Portland, but they are not huge companies. Smaller businesses can do pretty well in cities.
      Luckily, our school district is pretty good. The suburb schools aren’t much better so it’s more or less equivalent. The school are getting overcrowded as families elect to stay in the city, though. The class size at our school went up 60% in just a few years. Schools will improve as families invest in them via school bonds and taxes…

  32. I live in the Kansas City metro area (suburbs) on the Kansas side. Our suburbs continue to grow and expand further out from the city center. This coincides with a revamp of our downtown area. What I don’t understand is the amount of apartments that have been going up far away from downtown. It is Millennials that are renting them, but I always thought you would want to be near the city center if you were going the apartment route. It seems they are really over building and will have a lot of vacant apartments a decade from now.

    And to you point on baby boomers downsizing, we see a lot of that but most are moving to maintenance free communities in the suburbs. They can still have their house and lawn but don’t have to take care of it. I think for a lot of them, downtown would be a little too fast paced for them.

    • From what I read, it is the Millennials that prefer renting. They prefer to save money and don’t want to be tie down. I’m sure that will change as they get older. Hopefully, the next generation will continue to like living in apartments because it’d be bad to have a ton of vacancies like that.
      Not sure about baby boomers. The one I knows still doesn’t want to downsize unless they really have to.

  33. It’s cyclical and location dependent (in your city and across the US). In areas that are stagnant or shrinking, the people moving out have to come from somewhere.

    Around Raleigh, it seems like times are still booming in the suburbs. Lots of new construction going up and I’ve heard there are bidding wars even 30 minutes out from “town” (bidding war = a few offers submitted within a day or two of listing; my sister in law just closed on a 4000 square foot house 30 minutes out for $350,000, so it’s still not crazy prices).

    The funny thing is how you determine “suburb”. Where we live was a suburb 50-60 years ago and it’s now square in the middle of the city with transit, shopping, city issues, etc. And our ‘hood is undergoing a good bit of gentrification as wealthy people are moving a mile or two out from downtown or from the already gentrified areas 1-2 miles west of us. Property prices have spiked from $150-160k up to $200k or so in the past 2 years (no big deal by west coast standards, but given prices remaining in the $140-160k range for the 2003-2015 period we lived here, it’s a huge deal!).

    As for suburban shopping malls, we’re actually seeing more decline in the middle ring of suburbia (from where we live and several miles further out). People keep moving out more and more or return to the center of town, and stores close. 2 regional shopping malls are teetering on bankruptcy and struggling to get by. And their shopping desires are shifting to online, specialty, and lifestyle shopping centers (open air streetscapes made to look like Main Street or some stylized European city street with play areas, fountains, etc).

    To summarize, I’m not buying it in Raleigh though we’re still growing pretty rapidly so demand for suburban housing seems to remain strong alongside demand for housing overall. There’s just a shift of where demand is strongest.

    • Interesting about how your neighborhood is changing. The cheaper neighborhoods in Portland is undergoing tremendous gentrification right now. Poor people can’t afford to live in those area anymore. Kind of suck, but I guess that’s life. Good news on the appreciation. Portland generally lags CA by about a year or two. Hopefully, the real estate market continue to do well for at least 4-5 years. Maybe we can cash out then.
      Open air malls are okay, but still not that great. I still have no reason to visit. 🙂

      • $200k here in our neighborhood is still very doable since the salaries here are probably close to what they are where you are. Explains why there are many blue collar workers living in this neighborhood. Even the newly arrived are a mix of blue and white collar, so it’s still affordable. Curious how long that will remain true.

        As for the malls, we’re the same way. I think I go to the mall once every year or two and it’s only to buy a new pair of shoes (so I can try on a variety of styles and sizes). Otherwise it’s target/walmart and various grocery stores or hardware stores. And the internet of course!

  34. Unfortunately the suburbs are alive and well in most major cities in Texas. You can get a lot for your money compared to living in the city,and for some reason people don’t mind the 1+ hour commute each way. I personally hate the burbs, we lived in one when I was younger with my parents, and they feel like soulless manufactured spaces. Once I moved out, I lived near the core of every city I lived in, and never regretted it. I’m currently reading a book called Happy City, it makes a great case for why living in suburbs with the related commute leads to the unhappiest people. Hoping the core get bigger over the years, and the burbs die out eventually. Of course pricing has a lot to do with it, but if Millennials really value quality over quantity, cities should thrive.

    • I visited Texas once and it was too sprawled out for me. 🙂 There is just too much space to go dense. Maybe the horrible commute would do it, though. I don’t like living in the suburb either. At this point, we really prefer the urban core or maybe just go rural. I’d love to have a few acres and see experience the slower pace of life.

      • That driving would drive me f$#%ing insane. I’m good for about 10 minutes (the max amount of time I have to drive to get to virtually every destination around me). Beyond that and it’s a “long drive”. Driving is stressful (see road rage) and just isn’t fun in the city. It’s also deadly. The suckiness of driving would offset any supposed advantage of suburban living for me.

        Any time someone asks me about living in a far out suburb I suggest they drive their route to/from work at 7:30 am and 5:30 pm and see if they enjoy the extra 30-60 minutes of getting stuck in traffic versus living closer in. Usually the pristine green lawns, brand new clubhouses, and granite countertops overcome their analytical abilities and they move way far out (and gripe about the commute 🙂 ).

  35. Hey, one idea about the condo I got from a friend of mine; buy the place next door/above/below and expand through the wall/ceiling/floor. Depending on the building/space it might seem expensive but might be cheaper when you do the math and also factor how much you like the location and not having to move (which is terrible).

    • I like that idea. We missed the boat on the next door unit during the housing crisis, though. The HOA fee would be a bit too high if we have 2 units too. It’d be over $1,000. That’s too much. I agree about moving. Maybe we’ll put it off a while longer.

  36. In the DC area it seems like the city itself has been improving and expanding, but the suburbs have, as well. Development in the city has been pretty non-stop for the last (at least) 10 years, and the city has gotten much safer. Areas of the city that used to be run down are now filled with luxury apartments.

    At the same time, it seems like the suburbs are expanding, too. The subway system has expanded to include new suburbs and it seems like lots of people have moved from the city to the ‘burbs as the city has gotten more expensive.

    That said, I don’t have any numbers to back any of this up. Plus, life still seems to revolve around being near and accessible to the city. Suburbs further out and not metro-accessible could very well be struggling.

    • I agree with what Matt says, the DC city is booming. I remember 20 years ago, the city was run down, dangerous, and people didn’t go into the city. Maybe for work or school, sure, but we got out as soon as possible. Now I feel like I go into the city a bunch when I’m home. A lot of people are moving into the city. Sure the suburbs/exburbs way out are doing ok, but I think that’s more to do with the fact that it’s cheap.
      I will say I’m curious what the next few years will do to the DC area. As the millennials age, will they move out when they have kids? I don’t know. The city has a lot to offer now.

    • I read that DC is one of the top expansion city. SF, Seattle, Portland and some others are doing very well too. Cities have changed a lot over the last 20 years. It’s so much nicer to live in them now. I also read that the urban population growth is more limited to wealthy/single people. That makes sense. Working families can’t afford the rent anymore.

  37. I think the Portland real estate market will continue to explode. It’s going the same way as SF and Seattle. However, there may be more and more restrictions and headaches (just like SF) that make people leave the property business, such as the HOA fee.

    I hate being a landlord but I realize it’s great diversification. If the HOA is really that much of a headache, maybe sell, but I think real estate will continue to boom in Portland. If it cash flows, I would keep the condo despite the headaches.

    • It’d be great if Portland continue to explode. We have 3 properties here and would benefit from more expansion. However, I’m not very hopeful. History suggest that we’ll crash harder than SF and Seattle. Those bigger cities have a lot more stable well paying jobs. Portland is too small. I hope I’m wrong, though. Maybe we’ll stay at our current condo 4 more years. That would give the real estate market to mature more.

  38. It doesn’t feel like any of our suburbs are dying around the Twin Cities, still a lot of houses going up over 10 miles out from down town.

    Chain restaurants are having a harder time here, especially closer to the city. Food trucks ran a lot of the chain fast food places out of the skyways.

    Older malls do seem to be struggling though, last one I was in had a lot of vacant store fronts.

    • Thanks for your input. Sounds like the suburbs are doing okay in that part of the US. Hopefully, someone will repurpose the old malls in some way.


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