Julia from Color Me Green wonders about the future of suburbia.
Recently, the idea has been making the rounds that Generation Y wants suburbs to have more of the types of amenities and walkability typically found in cities. As the New York Times noted in their provacatively titled "Creating Hipsturbia":
"The young and highly educated, even though they overwhelmingly grew up in the suburbs, want to be able walk to an independent coffee bar, passing other people with tattoos, order a soy-milk chai latte and vegan pastry, and crack open their Macbook to enjoy some free public wi-fi. As they outgrow the city, like generations before them, they go looking for the same amenities in a more suburban setting. Some areas will attract these people naturally; others are going to have to work for it."
Interestingly, Grist's response - "Where will all the hipsters go?" - asks why it's necessary to leave the city in the first place. The writer is hopelessly uninformed about NYC, though:
"There are areas of cheaper, ungentrified Brooklyn where they could afford a brownstone for the price of a similar-sized detached home in Tarrytown. Why do they choose a town on the Hudson over Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights, or Sunset Park? Is it because crime is still a concern? Are those fears statistically justified? Are New York City public schools still perceived as vastly inferior to their suburban counterparts, and is that accurate? Or is it just because, at some very basic level, many young people still want the comforts they grew up with, like garages and lawns and large, separate houses?"
First of all, even in what he calls a "cheaper" ungentrified neighborhoods he talks about (one of which is where I live), it's still hard to find a whole brownstone for much less than a $1 million, much less a 2 bedroom apartment for the price of what my parents' rural-suburban house is worth. And second of all, most New York City public schools actually ARE inferior. Both of those are very big stumbling blocks to being able to raise a family in the city.
Then there's the American dream of owning a home with a lawn and breathing space. Even I succumb to this desire to a certain extent, with my recent move into an apartment with a backyard, so I can pretend I live in the country. I'm very happy living in the city, but having grown up in the country, I sometimes feel the pull to live again surrounded by trees and grass and fields.
But like my cohorts mentioned in the NYT article above, I don't just want nature -- I also want to live in a place with independent businesses and walkable neighborhoods and public transit. I don't want to spend my life in a car, guzzling gas. I don't want a house with more space than I need. While there are some towns like that (often college towns), options are currently limited.
Back in 2011, Grist reported that Generation Y isn't looking for McMansions, but instead for smaller and less auto-dependent homes. At that time, they asked:
"But is it for real? And will Gen Y be any different than previous generations, which used dense, walkable neighborhoods for youthful partying and then motored out to the suburbs for their own kids — who were in their turn driven back into the cities by boredom, only to start the cycle once again?"
This is something I've wondered myself. However, the fact that the media is still finding these trends two years later suggests that it's more than me just and my friends -- that it's a whole generation of people who hope to seek out and are willing to create suburbs that have more urban-like amenities, less sprawl and less energy-intensive neighborhoods and homes.
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