Suburbia Continues to Expand

This recently built “active adult” community is an hour’s drive from downtown Phoenix and surrounded in all directions by sagebrush and cactus. This spot is one of many places all over North America where previously untouched land is being developed into homes and other facilities.

It is a trend that really began in earnest following World War 2. Despite the much talked about “urban renaissance” of the 1990s and 2000s, suburbia continued to grow. Houses continued to be built on previously untouched land.

Just ten miles to the East of this randomly placed community is the City of Surprise, an outer suburb that has recently grown from a population around 30,000 at the turn of the century to over 140,000 today! This rapid growth occurred right through the height of the “urban renaissance” and the housing market collapse of 2007-2009.

Demand for suburban homes is expected to expand once again as people continue to embrace remote work after the pandemic. The emerging consensus appears to be some kind of “hybrid” scenario where people have an office to come into for meetings and group work, but also have the flexibility to work at least half of their time from home. This is the perfect scenario for continued expansion of outer suburbs like Surprise, as an hour commute is far less painful one or two days a week than five. With this scenario, people will now desire homes large enough to be comfortable in their home offices.

As is the case with any trend, some will appreciate it while others will not. At any given point in time, nearly everyone will be able to point to at least one trend they are enjoying or encouraged by and at least one other trend they view far more negatively. When observing things like these, it is important to remember a few things.

First, no trends are permanent. A look back into history can show examples of countless trends that found a way of reversing themselves. The “hippies” of the 1960s and 1970s became the “yuppies” of the 1980s and 1990s. In an even a more recent example, most of the 2010s saw pop music get slower and more depressing. Over the past several years, this trend has reversed itself. It would be foolish to assume any trend will continue on its current course forever.

Second, it is quite difficult to try to reverse or impact any of these larger scale trends. They are often the result of something far more major. Right now, suburbia is becoming more attractive because of the need for space for home offices with increased remote work. Developments like the expansion of ride sharing companies like Uber and the promise of self-driving cars are also making larger suburban homes more attractive to some. Similar explanations can be made for other trends and observations. Much of what is going on right now, socially and politically, are the result of a combination of human nature/ psychology and recent technological advancements. The only people who are able to have any real impact on trends like these are the ones that are both influential and relentless.

Finally, for those that are not in a position to impact societal trends, the best thing to do is to anticipate and react accordingly. This is most effectively done by understanding the mechanisms behind a trend and observing when it feels like the underlying conditions are going to change. This is the part that has the potential to be really enjoyable for curious people who love to speculate about the future. On the flip side, it is possible for some to spend too much time lamenting the trends they do not view as positive developments. In many cases, it leads to people focusing too much on what they can’t control and can have unfortunate negative impacts on their ability to live their best lives. Those that can control this urge and anticipate shifts in trends, however, will be well positioned for the future.

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