Population Statistic: Read. React. Repeat.
Thursday, February 16, 2021

With exurbs all the rage, and revitalization of downtown cores civic priority… Wither the suburbs? Despite holding 20 percent of the U.S. population, the ever-graying and dilapidating “first suburbs” are suffering from governmental neglect and outmoded operational plans.

It seems like the post-World War II buffer zone of suburban communities are being treated like a classic middle child. The metro region is the first-born: The commercial engine for the region that gets its due attention from economic and political powerbrokers. The exurbs are the newborn: Coveted for their younger voters (who invariably go Republican, owing to the relative affluence of those who can afford longer commutes and larger mortgages). The traditional suburbs, with their proximity to the urban core, are the neglected offspring: Assumed to be in fine shape, thanks to decades-old perceptions of wealth; that past has given way to migration patterns that make immediate bedroom communities more akin to the big city than the further-flung exurbs.

This isssue is more pertinent to me lately. I’m spending lots of time at my childhood home, which is in Orange County, New York. These days, Orange is technically an exurb, and there does seem to be more folks here commuting to NYC than I remember while growing up. But in other ways, it resembles more of a struggling suburb in Westchester or Nassau. I’ve noted, with bemusement, that there are a lot more older people around here than I noticed in Tampa Bay, where I just departed. And more obvious immigrant communities, notably from Mexico and South America.

As with most civic matters in the U.S., the perception shift has to take place before any tangible policy change can happen. The Brookings Institution study is only a starting gun.

by Costa Tsiokos, Thu 02/16/2006 11:35:43 PM
Category: Politics, Society
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  1. I’ve been pondering this for a day now, and it occurs to me that maybe the reason this phenomenon isn’t evident where I live is because the city has expanded so much (the advantage of living on the plains, where there are few natural barriers) that the areas which might be “first suburbs” to more traditional series are actually part of the city.

    But WWII seems to be the breakpoint regardless: prewar housing, at least on the city’s north side, gets historic or at least conservation protection. Fifties tract homes don’t rate. (My own neighborhood, three and a half miles from downtown, is atypical: it was built in the late 40s, but it’s under conservation zoning, mostly because the neighborhood, before I moved there, petitioned for it.) This has kept housing prices perhaps higher than they might have been otherwise, though I haven’t noticed much of a difference in ethnic distribution.

    There is, though, an age gap: by and large, I’m surrounded by young couples and empty-nesters, and not much in between. I attribute this to distrust of the city school district, even though the neighborhood school is highly regarded and competitive with schools in the ‘burbs; real-estate agents, if they see you have school-age children, tend to send you farther from the core unless you assure them that you’re doing the private-school thing.

    Comment by CGHill — 02/18/2006 @ 09:53:46 AM

  2. Where I just came from offers a similar contrast. Just like in OK, Florida’s mostly flat, so there’s no geography to prevent municipalities like Tampa from creeping their city limits to the county lines.

    It’s not uniform in Florida, though. Jacksonville became a traditional county-city combo back in the ’70s (or thereabouts), which does little but pump up Jax and makes it look bigger than what it really is. Miami adopted a joint county-city structure in the late ’90s. That was a negative action — Miami was drowning in disfunction, so tying its governance to Dade County was basically a bailout of the city. The effect: A certain degree of deconsolidation, with villages and unincorporated areas rushing to incorporate into little cities.

    In effect, the “first suburbs” phenomenon is the urbanization of formerly suburban zones. It’s just that the municipal motherships can’t extend their political reach (unless, say, NYC decides to start adding boroughs…)

    Comment by CT — 02/18/2006 @ 02:11:32 PM

  3. Perhaps the weirdest aspect of Oklahoma City is that it’s the largest city (by population) in two different counties, and the second largest in a third. It is, however, the seat only of one.

    This may or may not explain why Mayor Mick Cornett has been making noises about consolidating some services with adjoining municipalities.

    Comment by CGHill — 02/18/2006 @ 03:07:59 PM


    We already knew about more people doing the daily two-hour ride on the Metro-North trains into New York. But regularly commuting from south of Trenton?
    That’s the size of it for some workers, as their residential migration is expanding the defi…

    Trackback by Population Statistic — 05/21/2006 @ 06:31:46 PM

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