Interesting Washington Post coverage of baby boomers giving up on the suburbs

The baby boom generation was one of the drivers of the growth of American suburbs and, more importantly, American exurbs — those distant neighborhoods outside traditional suburbs and so far from urban cores that they deserve their own name.

Many of us have long thought that many of these outlying suburbs and exurbs are unsustainable — that they will not generate enough tax revenue to pay for infrastructure needs (see my post on the “second life cycle blues”) and that commuting costs and time will be considered unacceptable by future generations if these outlying areas don’t embrace more mixed-use zoning and focus on accessibility.

Americans born between 1946 and 1964 are typically considered to be part of the baby boom generation that fueled the growth of the suburbs during their childhoods and during adulthood too.

So an interesting piece in the Washington Post today about boomers returning to denser areas: The kids gone, aging Baby Boomers opt for city life

The story tracks a couple — 67 and 58 — who gave up the suburbs for a mixed-use, somewhat more urban area of metro DC. From the piece:

The Solymossys were front-runners of a mini-trend now taking root in some parts of the nation and particularly in the Washington metro area: Baby boomers swapping out their single-family suburban homes for the bustle of city life.

Reversing the trajectory of the Eisenhower generation, which fled cities for the suburbs, these boomers are following a path that younger people have embraced in droves. Many are empty nesters, and freed of the need to factor in school districts and yard sizes, they are gravitating to dense urban cores near restaurants, shops, movie theaters and Metro stations.

Between 2000 and 2010, more than a million baby boomers moved out of areas 40 to 80 miles from city centers and a similar number moved to within 5 miles of city centers, according to an analysis of 50 large cities by the online real estate brokerage Redfin.

Those are some pretty stunning numbers.

A word of caution: since we’re right in the midst of these apparent demographic shifts, it’s difficult to judge their speed or permanence precisely.

Still, this seems like a reasonable passage from the piece:

Chris Leinberger, a professor at the George Washington University School of Business and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, said that while comprehensive data won’t be available for another decade, the shift toward urban living is “the largest social trend of the early 21st century.” Although boomers aren’t driving it, he said, some are jumping on.

The boomers’ generation had embraced a more extreme version of suburban life than their parents had — adding to the burdens of home and garden care and commuting, Leinberger said. “The baby boomers’ lots are much bigger and they moved further out,” he said. “They’re tired of mowing their lawn; it takes sweat equity, or you have to write a check to someone to do it.”

As I’ve said here many times, the trends we’re seeing in larger cities may or may not apply to smaller metro areas like Savannah. And it’s clear that many suburban areas can be to some degree retrofitted to enhance certain quality of life factors that will make them more attractive to residents in the future.