Thinking About the Suburbs in the Midst of a Pandemic

I grew up in a suburb 30-minutes outside of a major US city. By the time I was sixteen, all of my dreams of college were wrapped up in the idea that I just had to get the heck out of the ‘burbs. I have felt a practically unhealthy loathing towards suburbs for the entirety of my adult life at this point, but it’s starting to seem like I’m not the only one. In fact,  America’s suburbs have been receiving an increasing amount of scrutiny in recent years. People have started to take notice of the issues surrounding transportation, housing costs, and city planning, which all lead to expansive areas that are not quite as enjoyable, or profitable, as walkable cities.

Not Just Bikes, a YouTube channel that often talks about city planning, sums up the issues of North American suburbs and how this actually causes cities to lose money in this fantastic video titled “How Suburban Development Makes American Cities Poorer”. To oversimplify many great points made in the video, a town or a city that is walkable, that has a mixture of single family, multi-family, and businesses all in one area, is actually much more profitable than single family suburbs with big-box stores that take up lots of precious land with large parking lots. Suburbs, as they are right now, are exclusionary in nature by only allowing single family housing.

Enter the pandemic. Remote work has skyrocketed and the trajectory of our work lives has been drastically changed. This change in the way we work has also created big changes in the hosing market. This article, from The Wall Street Journal, discusses how the increase in remote work is changing the ways renters and homeowners are re-evaluating what is necessary for their home-life and the kind of space they crave.

Our thoughts about housing are changing, and with remote work shaping the types of spaces people are looking for, I think it’s time we re-evaluate the ways our cities and towns are laid out in America. Suburbs can no longer be these large expanses of wasted space, but instead need to utilize the areas they have to create more affordable and multi-use housing options. They need to think about the ways businesses are laid out to create the best revenue stream and, to be honest, a better view. Everybody is sick and tired of the pandemic, (in fact, I nearly didn’t write this blog because I didn’t want to have to talk about it anymore) but it has shaped the world we’ve been living in for the last year, with affects that are likely to last much longer than that. If we play our cards right, we have the opportunity to reanalyze if the methods we’ve been using up until now are really what’s best for everyone.

I’ve hated the suburbs for the last ten years, but I’ve realized that doesn’t mean I’ll always have to.

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