The Suburban Default

Joseph White has a pretty interesting article in the Wall Street Journal about switching from a suburban lifestyle to a city-dweller and doing it as a Boomer. This is one group that seems to often get written-off as extremely attached to big houses, suburban streets and cars; so this little anecdote caught my eye:
I got a 35-pound package delivered to my office. Old life: Stick the package in the trunk and drive it home. New life: Haul the package to the corner of K Street and Connecticut Ave. and hail a cab. Future life: Live without 35-pound packages.
A typically response here would be: see, look how bad life would be without cars. How would you haul around all your stuff? Which raises an equally good point, why do we even need all that stuff?

But I digress, because the reason for this post is really about Generation Y more than it is about Boomers. I was sitting around a poker table over the summer with a few people I'd known since high school. All but one of us grew up in suburbs, and the fact that we were in the basement of an unnecessary large house in a subdivision miles away from the closest city was brought up at some point. To my surprise, there was unanimous agreement that suburbs were really not great places to be.

I was supposed to graduate from college last May. That didn't happen. But a lot of my friends did graduate. Some of them moved to cities, but fewer than said they were going to.

(from flickr user pixelhut)

What happened? I think it has to do with the fact that, for a lot of young people, suburbs are literally all they know. Even if they want to become city-dwellers like White, it would require breaking more than two decades of momentum and denying what has always been the default in their lives. The default option can be a very powerful thing.


    I can definitely, 100 percent relate to this post. I made the jump from suburbs to city for college, which has empowered me to stay in the city for post college (Lived in DC burbs, went to school in Philly, now live in DC proper). All of my high school friends, save one, have been talking like they are going to move into the district (or nyc) since we all graduated, but still either live with their parents or in a rental house in the burbs (and these are all smart, capable kids). I have no idea how to convince them that a) the additional cost of living in a city is more than made up for by not needing a car; and b) you live in a *place,* with all of the concomitant culture and attractions and cuisine and diversity, not some non place punctuated by the occasional foreclosure and/or wal mart.

    What to do? I feel like the shift is happening (and possibly accelerating), but day to day I find myself getting picked up at the 'tro anytime I want to see my old friends.

    Glad I'm not the only one to notice this.