Suburbs Not So Simple

Virginia suburbs have diverse patterns of development.

Virginia suburbs broken down by percentage of population in each suburban type.

A difficulty in analyzing the economic dynamics of the “suburbs” is that land use and development is far from uniform. Recognizing that the term encompasses a wide range of human settlement patterns, the authors of “Housing in the Evolving American Suburb” broke down suburbs into five major types.

Established high-end. These have high home values and established development patterns. They tend to be built at higher densities and located closer to the metropolitan core. Residents resist new growth.

Stable middle-income. These neighborhoods tend to be older and located closer to the urban core. They exhibit a wide range of home values.

Economically challenged. These locations have lower home values and have seen little to no population growth in recent years. They may have aging infrastructure or under-performing services.

Greenfield lifestyle. These are newer, developed within the past ten to 15 years, and closer to the suburban fringe, where the bulk of new community development is occurring. They tend to have some land still available for new development.

Greenfield value. These, too, are located at or close to the suburban fringe, attracting value-oriented home buyers. Developing over the past ten to 15 years, they often reflect a “drive until you qualify” pattern.

The distribution of population between suburban types is similar in Richmond and Hampton Roads, as seen in the table above. But the sprawling, faster-growing Washington region is distinguished by a significantly higher “greenfield value” population. The drive-until-you-qualify phenomenon is in strong in Washington’s Northern Virginia suburbs, impelled by development restrictions and high housing prices in the core jurisdictions.

Bacon’s bottom line: I suppose this taxonomy is marginally interesting, but I don’t see how it guides either homeowners or county governance. The same study examines home buyer preferences (see previous post). How do these suburban types match against those preferences? The study doesn’t say. How does the trajectory of housing values match against those preferences? It doesn’t say. How should county officials alter their comprehensive plans to better align housing/community types with market demand? Again, not much to say.

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One response to “Suburbs Not So Simple

  1. big changes are afoot for MPOs – in areas where there are a urbanized core MPO then outlying exurban ring MPOs.

    FHWA is going to have them reconstituted into one MPO and that’s going to have major impacts to the way that transportation is planned – and funded and combined with VDOT’s new SmartScale – it’s going to force much tougher analysis on proposed new roads within those mega MPOs.

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