The Future of the Suburbs

Very interesting interview with Christopher Leinberger about the future of the suburbs. The point he’s making is perhaps helpfully illustrated by this photo of the Ballston area in Arlington County, VA — one of DC’s extremely successful semi-urban suburbs:


Interesting. So what can DC teach us as an example?
What we’re learning about the DC area is that there are 30 of these walkable communities here. I’m only talking about regionally significant places, not individual neighborhoods. So, for instance, downtown DC, Reston, Bethesda and so on. Of these places, 90 percent are on the metro system and most of the rest will be linked into it in the next five years. So that’s a pretty obvious correlation right there. But most of these walkable places are in the suburbs.

What’s the lesson?
This structural trend is about the transformation of the suburbs into something else. I’ve been doing some research looking at the price premiums on a per-square-foot basis for walkable communities. They get a price premium between 40 and 200 percent. I’ve also been looking at what I call the “penumbra.” A walkable place is typically 50 to 500 acres in size. The penumbra, that area around it, can be even bigger.

Almost like micro suburbs.
Yes. These places are still suburban but they are within walking distance of the walkable places. This “penumbra” is seeing premiums of 20 to 80 percent over the rest of the market.

The future of a well-done metro area wouldn’t be everything looking like this particular block. Rather, what they have in Arlington is a long high-density, highly-walkable corridor stretched out along a metro line. That then creates lots of more traditionally “suburban” space that’s still within walking distance of the corridor. A metro area should, ideally, have a whole bunch of corridors like that which then converge to create a downtown. Then the wedges between the corridors serve the way traditional suburbs do today. The result is a real mix of housing options and neighborhood types.