The latest analysis of census numbers by the Indiana Business Research Center at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business hints at a changing dynamic in the way we think of our cities and perhaps in where we want to live.
Suburbia may be losing a bit of its lure as a new generation considers where to live, looking to the bright lights rather than the green expanses of lawn and tidy suburban streets, where many of them grew up.
Center demographer Matthew Kinghorn said the recession of 2007-09 had slowed suburban growth, with the pinch on employment making it hard for young families to afford a mortgage. Some even had to move in with friends or back home when jobs disappeared. A new home in the suburbs was out of the question.
But, he added, the recovery has been in place and picking up steam long enough that economic problems should no longer be the same barrier. Still, Indianapolis, Fort Wayne and Evansville have continued to grow. Mind you, so have suburban areas, particularly the doughnut counties that encircle Indianapolis.
But it is the trend back toward urban growth that is the more interesting. As Kinghorn noted, does this portend a lifestyle change among millennials who prefer the urban landscape? That’s probably true but is not the whole answer, and it’s too early to tell whether tastes will change as that generation ages.
But other factors also come into play and even a small city such as Bloomington is a reasonable testing ground to explore causes and their effects on the shape of the country.
We’ve seen a reurbanization of sorts in Bloomington, one that is most obvious by the repopulation of downtown. But that’s a student/developer-driven phenomenon — one the city has encouraged but which may not be indicative of how the wider world works.
But there are other indications that how Americans view where they live and how they live may be undergoing a significant transition. New urbanist housing developments — closely packed homes with small or even no yards, houses with front porches rather than the blank, garage-door look of many suburban homes, have sprouted in a few locations in Bloomington.
Driving isn’t the center of life for quite as many people today as it once was. Living within walking distance of your job, the shops you use, the places where you meet friends and socialize, those are things people want. And they are much easier to find in the city — even in tiny Bloomington — than the suburbs.
We as a nation sprawled across what seemed a limitless space through the 20th century. Anyone who’s recently driven across America knows that even today that space is almost as limitless as it was a century ago. The difference now is in price, and not only in dollars. We can no longer afford the cost to our environment or to our human connectedness that the “safe” suburbs have lulled us into accepting.
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