Joel Kotkin and Alan Berger assert that the majority of economic and demographic growth in the U.S. takes place in the suburbs
Courtesy Adobe Stock

While the suburbs have not always been able to compete with cities in terms of lifestyle offerings, shifting expectations in recent years have caused many suburban areas to offer more than the typical bedroom community. In addition to quality housing, suburban developments have begun to meet homeowner demand for shopping and entertainment options, safety, and job opportunities as well.

“With the advent of COVID-19, the American suburbs have seen a renewed interest,” says Kheir Al-Kodmany, a professor at the University of Illinois Chicago’s College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs. “After witnessing a generational shift that favors urban living, we see people interested in low-density living again. Applying social distancing and practicing teleworking have demanded larger living spaces and promoted low-density suburban living.”

As part of its analysis of suburbs in the U.S., StorageCafé sought to identify the suburbs that struck the best balance between the coveted suburban atmosphere and the benefits of big-city living. Suburbs, defined as areas with populations between 10,000 and 100,000, were ranked based on a number of criteria, including the local median household income, housing affordability index, local employment opportunities, population density, public school rankings, the number of retail stores and restaurants, and park and recreation area square footage per capita, among other factors.

While quality housing and good schools have been staples of the quintessential suburb, the suburban landscape has undergone a transition and revamp in some locations, adding diversity to the local housing stock through upscale rental apartments, including high-value amenities such as restaurants, entertainment venues, and retail shopping stores, and offering quality jobs at a closer distance. The suburban shift was aided by the work-from-era during the COVID-19 pandemic as many Americans were no longer tied to an on-site job location for their housing.

StorageCafé identified Southlake, Texas, as the best suburb for Americans seeking an urban feel. The suburb has the highest median household income among analyzed suburbs at $240,200 per year, and the community boasts about 6.5 retails per 1,000 residents, twice as many as the average suburb. The Southlake public school system is also one of the best rated in the nation, with two area elementary schools making the U.S. News and World Report’s list for best schools in Texas. The community has access to 10 health care and social assistance establishments per 1,000 residents and offers approximately 577 square feet of park space per person. The Dallas area also placed six other suburban areas in StorageCafé’s top 100.

The Chicago metro area placed three, Lake Forest, Highland Park, and Geneva, in the top four suburbs for city-like living, according to StorageCafé. In addition to its presence in the top four, Chicagoland placed 21 suburbs in StorageCafe’s top 100 suburbs for urban living. Calabasas, California; Burr Ridge, Illinois; Oakland, New Jersey; Brentwood, Tennessee; Northbrook, Illinois; and Garden City, New York, round out the top 10 suburbs for city living.

“Suburban real estate data reveals a considerable increase in suburban home sales and prices,” says Al-Kodmany. “For example, home prices in Burr Ridge were increased by 20% on average. After a constant decrease in home prices in this suburb for the past four to five years, the prices shot up surprisingly last year. Despite the aging housing stock in that area, demand increased.”

According to StorageCafé, some of the top suburbs on its ranking are places where individuals make the most money, which helps support the lifestyles now associated with city-like suburban areas. The average household income in the top 20 suburbs is roughly $139,000, more than 80% greater than the average income of the typical suburban household ($76,250).

Although the short term has seen a lot of pandemic-related outmigration to the suburbs as urbanites seek larger homes with more space (thereby driving up sale prices), the longer-term shift in American suburbs has been one of transition, and many (particularly inner ring suburbs) are coming to represent the urban core demographically, economically, and politically,” says Stephan Schmidt, associate professor at Cornell University’s College of Architecture, Art, and Planning. “While this means an aging housing stock, greater poverty, and income inequality, it also means demographic diversity, more mixed-use development, higher densities and with that more transportation options and walkable communities, and better urban design and public space provision.”