For nearly seventy years, the suburbs were as American asapple pie. As the middle class ballooned and single-family homes and carsbecame more affordable, we flocked to pre-fabricated communities in thesuburbs, a place where open air and solitude offered a retreat from our dense,polluted cities. Before long, success became synonymous with a private home ina bedroom community complete with a yard, a two-car garage, and a commute tothe office, and subdivisions quickly blanketed our landscape.
But in recent years things have started to change. An epichousing crisis revealed existing problems with this unique pattern ofdevelopment, while the steady pull of long-simmering economic, societal, anddemographic forces has culminated in a perfect storm that has led to a profoundshift in the way we desire to live.
In The End of the Suburbs journalist LeighGallagher traces the rise and fall of American suburbia from the statelyrailroad suburbs that sprung up outside American cities in the nineteenth andearly twentieth centuries to current-day sprawling exurbs where residents spendas much as four hours each day commuting. Along the way she shows why suburbiawas unsustainable from the start and explores the hundreds of new, alternativecommunities that are springing up around the country and promise to reshape ourway of life for the better.
Not all suburbs are going to vanish, of course, butGallagher's research and reporting show the trends are undeniable. Considersome of the forces at work:
- The nuclear family is no more: Our marriage and birth rates are steadily declining, while single-person households are on the rise. Thus, the good schools and family-friendly lifestyle the suburbs promised are increasingly unnecessary.
- We want out of our cars: As the price of oil continues to rise, the hours-long commutes forced on us by sprawl have become unaffordable for many. Meanwhile, today's younger generation has expressed a perplexing indifference toward cars and driving. Both shifts have fueled demand for denser, pedestrian-friendly communities.
- Cities are booming. Once abandoned by the wealthy, cities are experiencing a renaissance, especially among younger generations and families with young children. At the same time, suburbs across the country have had to confront never-before-seen rates of poverty and crime.
Blending powerful data with vivid on the ground reporting,Gallagher introduces us to a fascinating cast of characters, including thecharismatic leader of the anti-sprawl movement; a mild-mannered Minnesotan whoquit his job to convince the world that the suburbs are a financial Ponzischeme; and the disaffected residents of suburbia, like the teacher whosepunishing commute entailed leaving home at 4 a.m. and sleeping under her deskin her classroom.
Along the way, she explains why understanding the shiftstaking place is imperative to any discussion about the future of our housinglandscape and of our society itself-and why that future will bring us stronger,healthier, happier, and more diverse communities for everyone.