Dynamic
Communities


The New
American Suburb

When Jennifer Griffin and her young family were priced out of their Brooklyn neighborhood, she used her skills as an urban planner to seek out a similar, but more affordable, lifestyle somewhere else. “My husband and I had traveled the world and lived in some amazing cities, waiting until we were in our thirties to start our family,” she said. “We had to find more space, but in a neighborhood that would offer the amenities of city living without the prices to match.”

Griffin found the perfect spot in one of several “collar neighborhoods” ringing downtown Tulsa, Okla., a place with good public schools, parks, and all the perks of downtown just a short drive away.

This story is being repeated all around the country as new types of vibrant suburbs, either revived or created from scratch, are springing up outside of expensive downtown cores to meet the needs of young families who aren’t so much choosing suburban life as insisting that the suburbs change to accommodate the priorities they’ve brought with them from the city.

They demand higher-density housing, shorter commutes, easy access to their daily needs, plenty of opportunities to interact socially, interesting shopping, nearby green space, high-end dining options and other amenities traditionally unavailable in sprawling suburbs. It’s a new kind of convenient and tech-enabled community, with more breathing room than downtown and more street life than the ‘burbs.

Driven by Demographic Change

This new kind of American community is a phenomenon driven by demographics. “Millennials have been slow to form households, but it’s happening now, and roughly two-thirds say they want to live and work in mixed-use urban neighborhoods where they can feel a strong sense of community and invest in interactions and experiences, rather than things,” Griffin said. The next decade could bring a baby boom that drives even more young families to what some have termed new “surban” environments.

Driven by Demographic Change

This new kind of American community is a phenomenon driven by demographics. “Millennials have been slow to form households, but it’s happening now, and roughly two-thirds say they want to live and work in mixed-use urban neighborhoods where they can feel a strong sense of community and invest in interactions and experiences, rather than things,” Griffin said. The next decade could bring a baby boom that drives even more young families to what some have termed new “surban” environments.

Just Enough Density

The key to the success of this kind of new-style community is enough density to create what Lynn Richards, president and chief executive of the Congress for the New Urbanism, called “an active public realm” that’s more engaging than traditional suburbs and is interesting and inviting no matter which way you look. “But it’s not a car-free zone,” Richards said. “This is about transportation fluency. We need to design streets and neighborhoods to accommodate the car but not necessarily prioritize it. The goal is to move people most efficiently from A to B. People want a choice of transportation options.”

What drivers will enjoy most are shorter commutes to work and fewer trips to outmoded big box malls as office space and local shopping become part of the new suburban mix. And if smart traffic management—as in stop lights run by artificial intelligence—become more widely adopted, there’s the potential to bring even more efficiency to car travel. One pilot program in Pittsburgh operates computerized traffic lights at 50 intersections throughout the city. Sensors, cameras and AI algorithms make timing decisions that help keep traffic moving smoothly. So far, the program has reduced travel time by 25 percent and idling time by over 40 percent.

All Across America

One new American community that gets it right, Richards said, is the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor outside of Washington. D.C. It’s an incredible suburban transformation with 70,000 new high-density housing units and plenty of office space along vibrant streets filled with shopping and restaurants. It’s all connected by a variety of transit options that make getting around easy. People still drive, but despite the population increase in recent years, traffic has actually become less congested.

Some developers have turned their attention to moribund shopping malls, filling their vast parking lots with housing and creating a small new downtown at the center. Belmar, a development in Lakewood, Colo., and Houston’s City Centre are two successful examples.

Other communities have also caught onto the trend. They have identified the advantages for their tax bases and revitalized their old downtowns to attract young families. Completed in 2010, a nine-block stretch of classically suburban Lancaster, Calif., 35 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, is now called the BLVD. Residents enjoy farmers’ markets and holiday fests and patronize 50 new shops, restaurants, and businesses that have opened, along with a new park and museum.

Dallas is virtually surrounded by burgeoning new downtowns. North of the city, the Richardson/Addison/Plano area is developing furiously. In fact, the population of Plano’s Collin County is up 59 percent in just the past four years. In addition to developing a master plan for the revitalization of its historic downtown, Plano is welcoming the $3 billion, 2,600-acre Legacy Business Park development, which will include the corporate campuses of high-profile companies and ultimately employ 125,000 people. Alongside it will be Legacy West Urban Village, a new self-contained community with 1,080 mixed housing units, 335,000 square feet of retail space—including a food hall— and five acres of outdoor recreation space. Around cities such as Atlanta, Nashville, and Cincinnati, the story is much the same.

The key to the success of this kind of new‑style community is enough density to create “an active public realm.”

All Across America

One new American community that gets it right, Richards said, is the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor outside of Washington. D.C. It’s an incredible suburban transformation with 70,000 new high-density housing units and plenty of office space along vibrant streets filled with shopping and restaurants. It’s all connected by a variety of transit options that make getting around easy. People still drive, but despite the population increase in recent years, traffic has actually become less congested.

Some developers have turned their attention to moribund shopping malls, filling their vast parking lots with housing and creating a small new downtown at the center. Belmar, a development in Lakewood, Colo., and Houston’s City Centre are two successful examples.

Other communities have also caught onto the trend. They have identified the advantages for their tax bases and revitalized their old downtowns to attract young families. Completed in 2010, a nine-block stretch of classically suburban Lancaster, Calif., 35 miles north of downtown Los Angeles, is now called the BLVD. Residents enjoy farmers’ markets and holiday fests and patronize 50 new shops, restaurants, and businesses that have opened, along with a new park and museum.

Dallas is virtually surrounded by burgeoning new downtowns. North of the city, the Richardson/Addison/Plano area is developing furiously. In fact, the population of Plano’s Collin County is up 59 percent in just the past four years. In addition to developing a master plan for the revitalization of its historic downtown, Plano is welcoming the $3 billion, 2,600-acre Legacy Business Park development, which will include the corporate campuses of high-profile companies and ultimately employ 125,000 people. Alongside it will be Legacy West Urban Village, a new self-contained community with 1,080 mixed housing units, 335,000 square feet of retail space—including a food hall— and five acres of outdoor recreation space. Around cities such as Atlanta, Nashville, and Cincinnati, the story is much the same.

The Road Ahead

Expect many more new American communities to dot the map soon. Stockton Williams, executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, notes that 86 percent more households will form between 2015 and 2025 than in the previous decade, and 58 percent of them will be renters. There will also be a 38 percent surge in the country’s population age 65 and older from 2015 to 2025, and these downsizers will also be looking for vibrant, mixed-use environments. Watch for second-tier cities, developers, and old-school suburbs to race to meet the demand. And where that’s not happening, watch for young families to head out and revitalize neighborhoods on their own.

At the same time, the rise of remote work and smarter transportation options, perhaps including autonomous vehicles, will grant more Americans the flexibility to live outside the downtown core. In a 2017 Gallup poll, 43 percent of workers said they worked from home at times, 4.7 times more than the nine percent of 20 years ago. That work—and those smarter connected vehicles—will get a major boost once the 5G telecommunications standard takes hold and delivers more and faster connectivity both at home and on the road.

The Road Ahead

Expect many more new American communities to dot the map soon. Stockton Williams, executive director of the Urban Land Institute’s Terwilliger Center for Housing, notes that 86 percent more households will form between 2015 and 2025 than in the previous decade, and 58 percent of them will be renters. There will also be a 38 percent surge in the country’s population age 65 and older from 2015 to 2025, and these downsizers will also be looking for vibrant, mixed-use environments. Watch for second-tier cities, developers, and old-school suburbs to race to meet the demand. And where that’s not happening, watch for young families to head out and revitalize neighborhoods on their own.

At the same time, the rise of remote work and smarter transportation options, perhaps including autonomous vehicles, will grant more Americans the flexibility to live outside the downtown core. In a 2017 Gallup poll, 43 percent of workers said they worked from home at times, 4.7 times more than the nine percent of 20 years ago. That work—and those smarter connected vehicles—will get a major boost once the 5G telecommunications standard takes hold and delivers more and faster connectivity both at home and on the road.

Driving Forward

There’s no longer a need to conform to traditional ways of living, facing a binary decision between high downtown prices or long commutes to sleepy suburbs. More young families want the complete package at the right price. “We have to accommodate more growth in this country someplace, and we might as well do it in suburban spaces where people can access a full range of services and opportunities to live, work and shop,” Williams said. “It’s in our national interest. We have to find a common sense of purpose.”

Technology will help deliver this new, wider range of living options, but ultimately, it’s a story about connections. “People are looking for ways to have more real interactions,” Richards said. Griffin is certainly enjoying them. “We’ve been blown away by our new town. We have an urban lifestyle that includes family-friendly amenities within easy access, at an affordable price,” she said. It sounds like she has found her way home.

Highlights
of

Dynamic
Communities


The New
American Suburb

Click the numbers to see some of the most impressive features of these new residential areas.

  1. 1

    Green space

    One big advantage to leaving downtown: breathing room. New suburban communities prioritize parks and open space within walking distance, and some go even further. Bundoran Farm, a planned community outside of Charlottesville, Virginia, is surrounded by 2,100 acres of forests and pastures and includes a working farm and vineyard.

  2. 2

    Transportation

    The ideal new suburb has space for cars but offers a variety of transportation options for short trips, everything from pedestrian walkways and protected bike paths to traditional public transportation. The Rosslyn-Ballston corridor outside of Washington, D.C. has added 70,000 new residents but has managed to reduce traffic congestion at the same time.

  3. 3

    Real Estate

    Cookie-cutter housing developments are out. Young families want options including single-family homes, townhouses, condos and family-sized rental apartment options. Higher-density housing encourages social interaction, is less impactful on the environment, leaves more room for open space and puts less pressure on local infrastructure.

  4. 4

    Retail

    One in six traditional shopping malls will shutter in the next 10 years, in part because the U.S. has always had too much retail square footage and in part because online shopping has become a popular alternative to the old-school department store experience. It’s an opportunity for developers to reimagine that real estate, adding properties that feature a new approach to housing and workplaces to create new self-contained communities.

  5. 5

    Schools

    The search for good school systems is one of the main motivators for young families looking to live beyond urban downtowns. They are attracted to institutions helping to prepare young students for a tech-driven future. New development and an influx of kids may put pressure on schools, but tax bases also improve as new residents—and new housing units—appear.

  6. 6

    Work

    The ideal mixed-use suburb promises shorter commutes to adjacent office parks—Plano’s Legacy West is a great example—or to office space located above retail stores in reimagined downtowns. Co-working spaces are also on the rise to meet the needs of freelancing millennials, but the best commute of all may be none—for those who can work from home.