Infographic: Burbs Going Bust

For decades the and the American Dream went hand-in-hand: a house with a yard and a white picket fence. It was the alternative to the hustle and bustle of urban living, a peaceful place to raise a family. Instead of letting the dwindle away, resulting in unkempt ghost towns, we should begin thinking about how to retrofit the for the needs of our changing culture, reinventing Suburbia as a sustainable alternative to urban life.

For more on understanding the reality and difficulties of redesigning Suburbia check out this two part series on Saving Suburbia by Vanessa Quirk: Saving Suburbia Part I: Bursting the Bubble and Saving Suburbia Part II: Getting the Soccer Moms On Your Side.

Embed this , just copy/paste this code:

Cite: Jett, Megan. "Infographic: Burbs Going Bust" 30 Apr 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 23 Sep 2014. <>


  1. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    A quick math note:

    In the above graphic, the gas expenditure increase percentage is actually 109%, not 209%. While $2300 is 209% of $1100, the percentage increase is actually determined like this:

    PERCENT INCREASE = (new amount − original amount)/ original amount

    So the amount of the increase ($1200) is 109% of the original amount ($1100), meaning you have a 109% increase from 2001 to 2010.

    The overall point of your graphic, that we’re spending a lot more on gas than we used to, isn’t lost. We are spending much more – just not as much more as you’ve indicated.

  2. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    How do you define Generation Y? Are they the children of generation X? Just an arbitrarily defined age range? I ask because I’m curious what a 15 year old and a 32 year old have in common in the way of consumption, communication and philosophy.

  3. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    I posit we admit the suburbs are failures from the past and for the future and give them back to nature.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +2

      If we give the burbs back to nature then where will the poor people live?

      There is a signifigant problem brewing if the poor are going to occupy these communities. They typically cannot afford the annual upkeep of these homes. The trend of letting an industrial or near commercial style building rot in the hands of the poor for a generation or so and then the hipsters move in a reclaim the space on the artistic cheap is not going to work here. The building materials are closer to favelas than the brick and concrete inner-city townhomes/complexes/etc. of previous generations.

      There will be little chance of revival of these communities after a generation in the hands of the poor. there wont even be much copper to strip out of the plastic, vinyl, and chipboard shacks. Plenty of manufactured stone and thin granite though…

  4. Thumb up Thumb down -2

    If one looks at history a bit a fair amount of inner city aprtments become slums in time eg Bronx in USA, Johannesburg inner city apartment areas South Africa, various British city’s, Paris where the riots were (I forget the French name for them). Once one has a family the suburbs are better.

    • Thumb up Thumb down 0

      Any neighborhood that ages and does not adapt to fit the needs of current times will become slums, whether urban or suburban. In the past, when times changed and the automobile became king, the suburbs were a cheap and easy place to build a new community that centered around the wants and needs of that generation. The land that suburbia was developed on was previously greenfield and so it was cheap and easy to develop. It is harder and more expensive to redevelop brown fields and existing urban areas. That is why urban areas are not usually the first to get redeveloped and repurposed. But because of the world’s new knowledge of environmental impacts, and the desire to limit sprawl, redeveloping urban areas has become more desirable. The new generation sees opportunity in moving in on forgotten urban wastelands. When an urban area is redeveloped, its initial investment upfront may be high, but once achieved it will have a higher value and much more to offer than a suburban area due to the rich layers of its history, culture, and amenities that have been preserved combined with the new amenities that fit current needs and raise the quality of living to more modern standards.

  5. Thumb up Thumb down 0

    Great information! (The last question’s a little suspect though. Who’d admit to wanting to live in a “dumb growth” neighbourhood?)

  6. Thumb up Thumb down +3

    All of this anti-suburb angst is troublesome on several levels. For instance, anti-sprawl dogma ignores the coming improved efficiencies of automobiles and dwellings. (Isn’t every other architecture student dreaming of this futurism?)
    How will you justify your opposition to the car and personal mobility when it operates with 0% emissions? What will justify your opposition to the detached single family home when it produces agricultural or energy surpluses? Is your opposition based solely on the “white picket fence” anachronisms that are thoughtlessly recycled by popular myth and media?
    As the author correctly points out, the suburbs are places for re-invention. They certainly aren’t going away and it is important to consider their current “decline” as a by-product of economic recession, not long-term shift in market preference.
    Anti-surburban sentiment, parroted enthusiastically by the people who are in a unique position to “design” the future, is disappointing not only because it demonstrates a lack of imagination, but because it does nothing to further the discussion of the real opportunities of the exurban field.

    PS: “Smart” growth is a clever marketing term, just as Phanyxx’s response demonstrates. But it is only one (reductive) way of envisioning the future.

    • Thumb up Thumb down +2

      “How will you justify your opposition to the car and personal mobility when it operates with 0% emissions?”

      A car with no emissions is still a car, namely a very space-inefficient vehicle. You still need all the highways and parking, and will produce all the noise and small particles from grinding the asphalt.

  7. Thumb up Thumb down +2

    This provides an opportunity in the suburbs. As people move back to the cities prices there will go up, and they will go down in the burbs. Time to pick up a deal while it’s available. These trends swing back and forth.

  8. Thumb up Thumb down +1

    Interesting article overall – on the question of suburbs and their survival, I would suggest that suburbs that have some sort of regular mass transit connection to the center city and other employment centers will still have a role and attractiveness to various segments of the population. The model for these types of suburbs was really quite well perfected in England around London with the various commuter rail lines that ran out into the surrounding counties with station stops in what had been small rural villages that evolved into suburbs. Along the East Coast of the US, one just has to look to Boston, NYC, and Philadelphia for further examples. In the Midwest, Cleveland has it rapid transit line to Shaker Heights, an early 20th century suburb (that still retains value). And Chicago, of course, has a great many rail-oriented suburbs and one can often walk from one’s home to a Metra station to catch a train into the Loop.

    Those suburbs that developed without mass transit lines in place will probably be the ones at greatest risk, though bus transit could be provided as an alternative if there is an enlightened sense of what would be a good community investment. An example of this can be found in Loudoun County, VA, an outer county in the Washington metropolitan area,that recently grew quite large, fast, and rich; and it has recently developed a rather well done bus commuter system that connects to downtown DC and other employment centers; one does though have to drive to the bus terminals generally or get dropped off. The Loudoun County bus rides are not cheap, but its population is rather affluent.

    Many of the following comments were also very interesting. I do think the model for a sustainable civilization is based on viable, economically healthy center cities surrounded with suburbs closely linked via mass transit lines. The suburbs would provide a variety of housing types for various income levels. At the station stops, one would find the town square with shops, offices, and apartments above, a block away one finds apartment blocks, then the townhouses, then semi-detached houese, then single families, then the larger parcels – somewhat like a “suburban transect”. The point of this model is that one could walk to catch a transit ride or bike to it – or it dropped off at the station so that the household may only need one car and not multiples (note some of the recent scenes on Mad Men). The larger point I am trying to make is that we can design and develop cities and suburbs that provide multiple choices for housing and community environments and would provide mobility options and economic opportunities not dependent on owning a personal vehicle. We build these sorts of communities prior to World War II, I think we can rediscover how to do it again and maybe even better, but we shall see.

Share your thoughts