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There are a lot of advantages of living in suburban areas, such as having more space to roam around, experiencing nature, and living in peace and quiet. People often opt to live in suburbs rather than in cities. They want to feel a strong sense of community, safety, and quiet. But lately, the attributes that made suburban living the preference for most upwardly mobile families have come under attack. The suburbs are deteriorating and the economic mobility that was part of their promise is visibly collapsing.

People used to leave the city because they were afraid. Now, if you throw car crash danger in, you’re really in more danger in the suburbs than the city.

Basic infrastructure, like suburban shopping malls are dying. Robert Florida, the Author of New Urban Crisis, said that “Today’s suburbs no longer look much like the lily-white places portrayed on sitcoms like Leave It to Beaver, The Donna Reed Show, or Father Knows Best.”

The New Urban Crisis talks about how the decisions of the creative class, who decided to move into and gentrify downtown urban space, ended up impacting everyone else. Especially, those of meager economic means, who were forced out of the central locations in the cities and could only find affordable housing in the far off suburbs.

The exodus of the underclass from the cities changed the very nature of suburban life, from a middle-class ideal to something more akin to economic refugees. Along with the dislocation, it led to a crisis of identity for the suburbs and an economic hit. Enter a perfect storm of strapped budgets, lack of true economic development, and the end of economic advance and mobility for working people. In short, in many ways, suburban failure is a perfect metaphor for the collapse and failure of the American dream.

Poverty is one of the reasons for the suburb’s decline in growth. According to “Confronting Suburban Poverty in America,” more than one in four suburbanites is poor or nearly poor across the United States. Poverty is also rising at much faster rates in the suburbs. Because of worsening health outcomes, higher crime rates, failing schools and fewer job opportunities, life has become harder for individuals and families, closing off the opportunity for escape and creating a cycle of intergenerational poverty. BBC News reported that suburban poverty affects an estimated 16.4 million locals in the US; and, if the trend continues, it could rise to 24.5 million by 2020.

Contributing Factors to the Suburban Crisis

graph showing the rise in suburban poverty

Crime is also a factor for the suburban crisis. The Wall Street Journal says that over the last 10 years, violent crimes have exploded in the suburbs but tapered off in the cities. Suburbs are increasingly seeing gun, gang, and drug activities. According to the historian Kenneth, “People used to leave the city because they were afraid. Now, if you throw car crash danger in, you’re really in more danger in the suburbs than the city, most of the time.”

Economic mobility is becoming more challenging for suburb areas. For decades, suburbs were the places where everyone could work hard and succeed, but that has changed. The suburbs have become largely cut off from economic opportunity or mobility.

Cities have been the engines of economic progress and improvement in the 21st century, and there are no signs that this trend will change anytime soon. But it has left the far-flung suburbs in a difficult predicament of falling tax revenues and a shift in population that is less affluent and educated. The social cohesion of the suburbs has largely collapsed and makes it difficult to find cooperative workable solutions.

In the interim, cities have enjoyed a renaissance as the creative classes rediscover the joys of urban life, café society, and museums and parks. Perhaps the solution for the suburbs is to incorporate some of these features into suburban life, in order to attract the newly affluent professionals.