Development Trends: Suburbs vs Urban Core

Posted by Kris Lindahl on Thursday, January 3rd, 2019 at 11:02am.

Surban Centers Fill a New Need for Coordinated Lifestyles"Surban growth" may be the next phase of a changing development picture that will play an increasing role in real estate during the coming years.

Development demographics are shifting—but rather than there being a distinct separation between urban and suburban, the newest trend involves a melding of the best of both. This "surban" appeal redefines some of the traditional labels of generational context, employment status and even family makeup.

Emerging Trends of Future Growth

A fascinating look at the emerging future of a population—and an economy—in transition points to a reorganization not only of the "where" but also of the "who." It promises to affect the housing market as well as commercial development and city planning efforts, and despite some interesting studies and current statistics, no one currently knows quite where it will lead.

Here's a capsule view of some of the preliminary forecasts for the future:

  • Surban areas are destined to record the highest growth numbers over the next 10 years or so
  • A new Urban Land Institute (ULI) report identifies women, immigrants, retirees, and both older and younger workers as critical to new surban growth
  • Formerly known as mixed use development, surban areas benefit from a "soup pot" characterization rather than by strictly-defined use
  • Former generational identification has been reordered by decade to better depict the concerns of different groups of citizens
  • Retail centers will reflect and cater to experiences rather than products
  • Home and work separation will be blurred

There are a number of other forecasts, but there are few distinct models to draw from.

Changes to the Urban Scene

For the first time in decades, according to ULI, urban population growth is approaching the suburban growth rates, and the highest numbers were reported in denser neighborhoods. The study concludes that this demographic shift shows a preference for mixed use development, and that both Millennials and older Americans enjoy the urban benefits of job growth, racially-mixed and ethnically diverse neighborhoods, the shift from auto-oriented lifestyle to a more convenient lifestyle where walking or biking to work is common, along with a new appreciation for public transportation.

Even though Millennials are now trading urban apartments for suburban homes in greater numbers, there is also a corresponding shift by Baby Boomers and retirees in the other direction—from the suburbs to the urban core.

The associated downside is that these population and lifestyle shifts are creating additional affordability issues for the nation's urban centers, according to all reports.

This is where the middle ground—or the new surban economy—may become the future driver of development that will appeal to greater numbers of workers and residents of all ages.

Exploring Existing Surban Developments

In some ways, the new surban centers resemble the company towns of the country's past, those residential centers that sprung up in support of a single business, industry or need, including Lowell, Mass., Hershey, Penn., Corning, New York, or even Los Alamos, New Mexico, during the second World War.

There are some good examples. Among them are:

  • Naperville and Geneva, Chicago area suburbs now becoming reputable surban centers
  • City Centre in Houston, a former shopping mall
  • Legacy Town Center in Plano, Texas
  • Downtown Tempe, Arizona
  • The Cannery, a farm-to-table enterprise in Davis, California
  • Reston, Virginia, a planned community begun in 1964, that has morphed into what may now be the epitome of surban development

Whether surban development will actually represent the wave of the future, or will become yet another lifestyle alternative to massive sprawl is unclear. What is obvious is that demographics are changing. The United States is at another crossroads of development, and there are new patterns that bear little resemblance to the small towns and large cities of the past.

It all bears watching.

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