This column by author Neil Peirce begins with a little suburban history lesson:
(A)fter World War II, with Americans’ rush to thousands of new suburban locations, a never-before-seen norm appeared. Leinberger calls it “drivable sub-urbanism.” And what a market smash it proved, offering Americans a sense of freedom, mobility, privacy, their own piece of turf and a yard for the kids to play. Plus plenty of jobs and profits, from autos to oil to real estate to fast food. …
But in the 1990s, the model began to lose some of its luster. Suburbia’s big parking lots and low-density zoning meant an auto for every trip. Walking and transit were impractical. Older suburbs began to decline, inducing families to drive farther and farther to new suburban rings. Thousands of malls and shopping strips were abandoned. Traffic congestion — and Washington is no exception — became so severe that many families were obliged to build their lives around it. Kids had to be driven everywhere. Vehicle miles driven in America shot up a stunning 226 percent from 1983 to 2001, while population increased just 22 percent.
The suburbs aren’t going to go away, of course. But more recent trends may begin to favor the more traditional urban model:
(W)alkable urbanism has demographics going for it. The share of U.S. families with children at home has been declining sharply; the largest household growth will be empty nesters, never-nesters and singles, many likely to look to cities and their excitement. And cities, competing, will likely keep heeding advice to lure creative young professionals; in fact, those that don’t offer true walkable urbanism, Leinberger suggests, are “probably destined” to lose out economically.