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Like all evolutions of habitat, the suburbs have its roots in Latin. The word ‘suburb’ comes from the word suburbanus or suburbium, which literally means ‘located close to a city’.

Interestingly, the word does not simply refer to physical buildings, but also to the comportment of our fellow human beings. ‘Urbane’ refers to someone who is polished, elegant, civilised and cultured, ‘sub’urban automatically denotes the opposite – boring, dull, unexceptional, undistinguished.

Social perceptions of the suburbs

The social perception of the suburbs has always been challenging, with a real disconnect between it offering safety, space and security in a family oriented environment. The alternative view is often derisory, seeing the suburbs with a sneer, where a lack of diversity and culture leads to a bland existence of Stepford wives all trying to maintain a certain image in front of their neighbours.

That view has evolved over the decades. Pre and post war a move to the suburbs was part of the natural progression through life. You started work in the city, then when you got married and started a family, a move to within a commutable distance was necessary for more space.

In these post covid days, fuelled by the ability to work online, the need to be within a commutable distance of a big city is no longer necessary. The perception of working from home from a tiny city apartment does not have the same appeal as working from a dedicated space in a larger home.

So is the suburban dream dead?

The concept of the “suburban dream” is not so much that it is dead, but rather that it has shifted considerably. Unprecedented population growth and a massive change in the way in which people work has altered the landscape.

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While some argue that the traditional notion of suburban living, with its emphasis on single-family homes, large lawns, and driveways housing family saloons shined meticulously over the weekend with car wax, is declining in popularity, others contend that suburbs continue to thrive, albeit with some modifications.

Urbanization and New Urbanism

Urban living has also itself to cope with a growing population and change in demographics. The rise in co-living and micro apartments have evolved to give lower earners to opportunity for city living. As gentrification of under developed areas continues to creep through, long term residents are being displaced, or dying off, and traditional city communities are giving way to a more dynamic and diverse social infrastructure.

Equally, as the traditional family unit becomes splintered, here has been a resurgence in interest in urban living among empty nesters seeking walkable neighborhoods, access to amenities, and shorter commutes. New Urbanism concepts promote mixed-use development, higher density, and pedestrian-friendly design, offering an alternative to traditional suburban sprawl.

Suburban Revitalization

The need for connection and community is seeing a definite rise in positive suburban values, where family activities and local activities are at the forefront. With so much focus on reducing pollution, local communities are embracing those old valued values of moving within their own neighbourhoods. In turn, this is creating more vibrant, diverse, and sustainable communities. This may involve the regeneration of town centers, mixed-income housing, and improved public transportation options.

Suburbs on suburbs

Increasing demographics and increasing pressure on existing housing is driving an increase in the construction of further developments beyond existing suburban towns. The further away you get from principal conurbations, the cheaper the land, which means those seeking larger properties have more space, or more housing units can be built to provide cheaper housing.

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The changing face of the suburban dream

Shift Toward Multifamily Housing

Another demographic change – longer lives creating multi-generational families – is also driving a change in the way we live. Multifamily housing options such as apartments, condominiums, and townhouses, are now becoming even more popular, even in suburban areas. This reflects a desire for more affordable, low-maintenance living arrangements for families who want to stay close to each other, while maintaining a certain degree of independence.

Digital Nomadism and Remote Work

The ability to work remotely has enabled some individuals and families to choose where they live based on lifestyle preferences rather than proximity to a job center. This has led to an increase in interest in suburban and rural areas, as well as smaller towns and cities, where housing costs may be lower and quality of life higher.

Overall, while the traditional suburban dream may be evolving, it is certainly not dead. The urge for property ownership, living and working in local communities, maintaining a tight family unit, is ensuring that the traditional family home and environment is as important as ever. Rather, the suburbs are evolving and adapting to changing societal values, economic realities, and technological advancements. The “suburban dream” now encompasses a broader range of preferences and lifestyles, reflecting the diverse needs and desires of contemporary society.

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