Have we reached "peak suburbs"? In her new book, The End of the Suburbs, Fortune magazine editor Leigh Gallagher argues that powerful social, economic, environmental and demographic forces are converging to end a half-century of suburban growth in the US.
This is good news for
those who believe that the US economy must become more sustainable, and
that big houses, big cars and big commutes are wasteful. "No other
country has such an enormous percentage of its middle class living at
such low densities across such massive amounts of land," Leigh writes.
Acerbic critic and author James Howard Kunstler, who's interviewed in
the book, more bluntly calls suburbia "the greatest misallocation of
resources in the history of the world."
But if cul-de-sac living
is approaching a dead end, what's next? And what opportunities for more
sustainable businesses will arise as the suburbs decline? Those are
among the questions I put to Leigh in this Q&A.
start with the basics. Why are suburbs in decline? Are rising energy
prices – or, dare we say it, concern about the environment – playing a
It's a number of forces all hitting at once,
really. Rising energy prices play a huge role. As we've spread ourselves
further and further apart, commutes have got longer and longer: some
3.5 million people now commute more than three hours a day. As I write
in the book, a couple of years ago, local TV stations started moving
back their first broadcasts from 5am to 4:30am, and even 4am in
recognition of just how early so many people need to leave their homes
to get to work. These epic commutes take a huge toll on people in terms
of their health, their relationships and, yes, especially their
wallets. Many people, especially in remote exurbia, now spend a greater
percentage of their income on transportation costs than on their housing
costs. Concern about the environment plays a role too, and is one
reason movements like minimalism and LifeEdited, which I write about in the book, have gained traction. People don't want to have as much stuff anymore. Read More