The suburbs: No longer the American Dream?

  • Photo 1 of 3

    Levittown, Long Island.

    - Meyer Leibowitz/The New York Times/Redux

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    School Street, Libertyville.

    - Nancy McLinden/Pink Olive Photography

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    1950s couple.

    - Superstock/Everett Collection
Image of The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving
Author: Leigh Gallagher
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 272 pages

That perfect picture of the American Dream: A white picket fence, 2.5 kids, a dog and friendly neighbors -- they all require a suburban location.

But according to one new book, that picture is changing. Americans are leaving the suburbs. In fact, for the first time a century, cities are growing faster than the 'burbs. Leigh Gallagher, assistant managing editor at Fortune, looks into why in her new book "The End of the Suburbs: Where The American Dream is Moving."

And while many people think of the growth of the suburbs as an explosion of American independence, the buildup of places like Levittown were actually quite planned by the government -- especially with the help of things like tax deductions.

She attributes part of the change not to a sudden desire to live like Manhattanites, but instead a desire for more community.

“It’s not just about moving back to the city, it’s not like everyone wants to live in a New York City skyscraper,” said Gallagher. “People want to be in communities that are livelier, where they can get to know their neighbors more.”

Part of the change is also attributed to the "huge demographic bombshell" of young families who are choosing to stay in cities with children -- whereas the suburbs are full of older generation, baby boomers.

Throughout the writing process, Gallagher even got sick of talking about the topic, which she found inspires so much debate and passion in people.

“So many people grew up in the suburbs, it's where most people in this country live. It strikes a chord with everyone," she adds.

About the author

Lizzie O'Leary is the new host of Marketplace Weekend.
Image of The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving
Author: Leigh Gallagher
Publisher: Portfolio Hardcover (2013)
Binding: Hardcover, 272 pages
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I like the term that smallplayer used – “urban suburb“. In my region, we have the urban core, then 1st-tier suburbs, 2nd–tier suburbs, and then rural areas. No one – or I should say few people – want to live in the urban core. The “urban suburbs” are the place to be – in one of those tiers. Every option under the sun is available to us – it’s the quality of life, good schools, jobs, shopping/grocery options, restaurants, greenspace, bike trails, low crime, newer hospitals, and on and on….. It can’t be matched. We need to revisit the term “suburb” – it appears to mean something different depending where in the country you are.

As an elder couple in our 60's, we are getting a divorce. He likes the extreme woods, and I opted for the urban suburb. I want community and options around me. To be able to stay home and go to the theater or drive to San Francisco for the theater. Having more choices for dining, medical, or just hosting a neighborhood party is important for keeping the future me young.

I can't say I'm surprised that there is a desire for community at this point. But I think suburbs can produce community as well as cities. As parents, we've moved from a major urban neighborhood to a more suburban neighborhood because we need the best schools possible for our kids. Though, in truth, our suburban neighborhood is still within the second largest school district in California. So maybe my sense of suburban is skewed?

I agree, population density has some effect on community, but just because 1,000 people are crammed into a city block doesn't mean anyone interacts with anyone else (at least in my city!) It has more to do with the attitude of people in your community rather than suburb vs. urban areas. Most people in the US don't seem to want to interact with their neighbors anyway.

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