Cities vs. Suburban Communities: How a Variety of Spaces Improve Quality of Life
There’s been a mass exodus from urban centers since early 2020.
This has been especially true in the San Francisco area which lost 116,000 residents in 2020 and 2021–the second-highest number in the country after Los Angeles.
But what caused this departure away from major cities and into suburban areas? And what has made suburban areas so appealing?
Here’s our take on it.
The Catalyst for Relocation from City Centers
Ultimately, this mass departure from major cities seems to boil down to the fact that COVID-19 changed the way people work and live.
Since the pandemic made remote work an everyday occurrence, suddenly people were given the chance to decide where to live based on how it aligned with their quality of life.
People were no longer forced to live in the same immediate geographic region as their offices.
And they exercised their ability to choose.
The Implications of Diverse Spaces and Their Impacts on Quality of Life
While the data clearly validates the fact that people are migrating away from cities en masse, the reasons why they choose the places they do are more personal and open-ended.
Of course, suburban markets generally offer a lower cost of living than big cities. And in many cases, people are relocating for better weather.
But there’s another factor that we find interesting to consider: many non-urban markets offer a variety of private and public spaces that are typically unavailable–or at least uncommon–in city settings.
And based on what we’ve seen in our own backyard, we believe that this variety has the ability to positively impact people’s quality of life.
Here are a few examples.
Larger Living Spaces
On average, suburban markets offer an additional 300 square feet of real estate per home, allowing homeowners to use the additional space how they see fit.
And this is important for people’s mental well-being. In fact, living in small spaces can cause you to feel closed in and can even elicit feelings of anxiety or depression.
Not only that, suburban neighborhoods generally provide more living space at a better cost per square foot than their big-city counterparts.
Greenspaces and Close Proximity to Nature
There’s growing evidence to suggest that being in nature has positive effects on mental health:
- Studies have shown that green spaces can lower levels of stress and reduce rates of depression and anxiety, reduce cortisol levels, and improve general well-being.
- Not only can a simple walk in nature boost your mood, but it can also improve your cognitive function and memory
- Green spaces can provide a buffer against the negative health impacts of stressful life events.
- A Dutch study showed that residents with a higher area of green spaces within a 3km radius had a better relationship with stressful life events
Big cities ultimately take people further away from nature. And people crave easy access to natural spaces where they can get out, explore, immerse themselves, and satisfy their curiosity to see something new.
In fact, studies have suggested that green and blue spaces provide opportunities for socialising outdoor which in turn increases the sense of community belonging and social cohesion.
Spaces That Foster Community Connection
Big cities create an interesting juxtaposition: they’re jam-packed with people, but that can ultimately make us feel lonelier.
One study found that more than half of all people surveyed felt like their city was a lonely place (55% in London and 52% in New York).
People thrive on social interaction and yet, in big cities, many people don’t even know their neighbors. All too often, they feel like a small fish in a big pond.
While urban planners are examining the relationship between dense metropolises and their correlation to mental health challenges, the changes may be happening too slow for those who currently live in cities.
Suburban neighborhoods often provide community-driven spaces that help people connect with one another, fostering those bonds between neighbors and providing that vital connection between people.
At SOMO Village, this includes:
- Community gardens and farmers’ markets
- A coworking space where solopreneurs, small teams, and larger organizations work together
- Live music and community events
- Local art exhibits and installations
- Restaurants and bars
While there’s no doubt cities offer the same amenities, the difference is in the sense of community that comes with smaller demogaphics and more frequent, repeated personal interactions.
Spaces for Children
When it comes to raising children in large cities versus suburban communities, there’s a case to be made for both sides.
But, by in large, many families seem to be fleeing the cities in order to raise families: between late 2019 and July 2020, large urban counties saw a decline of 5.4% in children under five years of age–this number was as high as 5.6% in Los Angeles county, which also saw a decline of 3.1% in children under 18.
The signs seem to point to the fact that parents want to raise their kids in bigger homes that are less expensive in an environment where close-knit community ties are prevalent.
And suburban markets tend to offer this–not to mention a high volume of parks and playgrounds for kids to use.
Closer Proximity to Desirable Spaces
Proximity is a big factor in where people want to live–not just because of convenience and time-efficiency but also because of environmental sustainability.
There’s no doubt that congested cities increase commute times, making essential amenities more time-consuming to access.
But urban environments also come with massive carbon footprints: cities account for 70% of global CO2 emissions, most of which are caused by industrial and motorized transportation systems that use huge quantities of fossil fuels and rely on far-flung infrastructure constructed with carbon-intensive materials.
SOMO Village takes steps to reduce our environmental footprint by putting people within close proximity to the amenities they need most. This includes:
- Building a 25-acre community farm that will provide locally-sourced food and reduce the emissions caused by transporting these items from elsewhere
- Ensuring our community is bike-friendly and walkable so that people don’t need to drive to get where they need to go
- Prioritizing easy transportation
There’s no right or wrong answer for where to live and why. It’s all a matter of personal preference.
But as we see people moving away from city centers and migrating towards smaller communities, we can’t help but think that the variety of spaces offered in these communities align well with what people want in life–and this factors into their decision about where they want to live.