The Real Deal New York

Urban, suburban, is it all the same?

Suburbs are starting to look incredibly diverse, raising questions about what it means to say you are from "the city"
July 26, 2014 12:00PM

 When abroad, suburbanites often use the closest major city as a proxy. “I’m from New York City,” could easily mean Long Island in a café in Madrid. But according to the Atlantic’s City Lab blog, we shouldn’t judge these suburbanites for claiming urbanite status, because the suburbs simply aren’t what they used to be.

For one, suburbs are becoming nearly as diverse as cities themselves.

“The 2008 U.S. Census update revealed that racial and ethnic minorities now make up one-third of the total suburban population in the nation’s one hundred largest metropolitan regions,” urban historians and sociologists Matthew D. Lassiter and Christopher Niedt wrote in a recent study published in The Journal of Urban History.

“[There are] residential patterns that include affluent single-family neighborhoods, high-poverty inner-ring suburbs… and exurban developments hit hard by predatory subprime lending and the ongoing foreclosure crisis. The U.S. suburban population now includes a majority of both first-generation immigrants and poor residents of metropolitan areas, and nearly half of all renters. Despite the persistence of the traditional nuclear family ideal, only about one-fourth of today’s suburban households consist of heterosexual married couples with children under the age of eighteen,” they wrote.

In fact, many city leaders are ditching the dichotomy between urban and suburban altogether. They argue that it is better to think of suburbs as a network of villages, unified by a larger metropolitan area.

Maybe they’re right, but that isn’t going to stop city snobs from calling out suburbanites next time they evoke the city as their own. At least for now. [The Atlantic] Christopher Cameron