WASHINGTON (AP) - Stung by high gasoline costs, outlying suburbs that sprouted in the heady 2000s are now seeing their growth fizzle to historic lows, halting American city dwellers' decades-long exodus to sprawling homes in distant towns.
New census estimates as of July 2011 highlight a shift in population trends following an extended housing bust and renewed spike in oil prices. Two years after the recession technically ended, and despite faint signs of a rebound, Americans again are shunning moves at record levels and staying put in big cities. That is posing longer-term consequences for residential "exurbs" on the edge of metropolitan areas.
Construction of gleaming new schools and mega-malls built in anticipation of a continued population boom is cutting back. Spacious McMansions offering the promise of homeownership to middle-class families sit abandoned or half-built. Once an escape from urban problems, suburban regions hit by foreclosures are posting bigger jumps in poverty than cities.
'The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us,' Yale University economist Robert J. Shiller said. Shiller, co-creator of a Standard & Poor's housing index, is perhaps best known for identifying the risks of a U.S. housing bubble before it actually burst in 2006-2007. Examining the current market, Shiller believes America is now at a turning point, shifting away from faraway suburbs in the long term amid persistently high gasoline prices.
Demographic changes also play a role: They include young singles increasingly delaying marriage and childbirth and thus more apt to rent and a graying population that in its golden years may prefer closer-in, walkable urban centers. 'Suburban housing prices may not recover in our lifetime,' Shiller said, calling the development of suburbs since 1950 "unusual" and enabled only by the rise of the automobile and the nation's highway system. "With the bursting of the bubble, we may be discovering the pleasures of the city and the advantages of renting, investing our money not in a single house but in a diversified portfolio. In all, 99 of the 100 fastest-growing exurbs and outer suburbs saw slower or no growth in 2011 compared with the mid-decade housing peak ..."