Look no further than the suburbs to see how American ideals about success are transforming.
People in the US suburbs are changing the way they shop, where they eat, and what they want in their homes.
Malls are shutting down as e-commerce continues to take over, and the casual-dining chains that fed shoppers after a day of hoofing it through the mall are struggling to cope.
Business Insider reporters from our consumer, transportation, news, graphics, video, and innovation teams have explored this idea in a series of stories.
We’re calling it the Death of Suburbia — because if the trends that they identified continue, the many suburbs as we know them will be forever changed.
The line is blurring between city and suburb
Urban and suburban areas are becoming less distinguishable as modern populations value convenience and location over size.
The line between city and suburb has already started to blur, Fadi Masoud, an urban planning professor at the University of Toronto who contributed to a forthcoming book called “Infinite Suburbia” told Business Insider’s Leanna Garfield.
“Some people still attribute the oldest part of the city, which is predominantly pedestrian-friendly and more dense as ‘urban,’ and then everything else that starts going out further in distance from the core as ‘suburban.’ But that definition doesn’t work as well now,” he tells Business Insider. “What you would usually define as urban and suburban is eroding.”
Urban planners across America are rethinking how suburbs are designed. Towns like New Rochelle, a suburb of New York City, are evolving to focus less on space and possession and more on walkability and environmental impact.
McMansions are out
The cheaply-constructed mansions of old are plummeting in value as homebuyers become more discerning.
In an article from August 2016, Bloomberg cited data from real-estate site Trulia that showed that the premiums paid for McMansions have declined significantly in 85 of the country’s 100 biggest cities.
For the purpose of the study, Trulia defined a McMansion as a home that was built between 2001 and 2007 and that has between 3,000 and 5,000 square feet of space.
To cite one example, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, the extra money that buyers were expected to be willing to pay to own a McMansion fell by 84% from 2012 to 2016. In that same city in 2012, a typical McMansion would be valued at $US477,000, about 274% more than the area’s other homes. Today, a McMansion would be valued at $US611,000, or 190% above the rest of the market.
Experts told Business Insider’s Madeline Stone that the youngest generations of homebuyers tend to value efficiency more than ever before, and feel McMansions are impractical and wasteful.
Suburban malls are in crisis
As anchor store behemoths like Macy’s, Sears, and JCPenney close hundreds of locations, the future of malls is in jeopardy.
The commercial real estate firm CoStar estimates that nearly a quarter of malls in the US, or roughly 310 of the nation’s 1,300 shopping malls, are at high risk of losing an anchor store.
Once that happens, it spells trouble for communities — especially those in the suburbs where job opportunities are more limited than in cities.
“Malls are big, big contributors to city and state taxes, jobs, and everything,” Howard Davidowitz, chairman of research firm Davidowitz & Associates, told Business Insider’s Hayley Peterson. “Once they close, they are a blight on the community for a very long time.”
As a transformation in retail continues to shutter giants Sears and Macy’s and threaten malls across the country, food court mainstays like Sbarro, Cinnabon, Jamba Juice, and Panda Express face an uncertain future.
Companies are packing up and heading to the city
“In the past several years, a handful of America’s largest corporations have joined a mass exodus from their suburban headquarters to new home bases in the city, and millennials seem to be the driving force,” writes Business Insider’s Chris Weller.
In August, General Electric announced it was ditching Fairfield, Connecticut, for Boston. And several years ago, Swiss banking giant UBS returned to New York City after 15 years in Stamford, Connecticut. The reason? UBS realised much of its top talent lived 35 miles south, in Manhattan.
The roads that connect suburbs to city are falling apart
The roads and bridges that connect America’s suburbs are in desperation need of repair.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) gives the US a D grade for its roads and a C grade for its bridges. The US Department of Transportation estimates that almost $US1 trillion is needed to improve the current Interstate and highway system in the US.
“In suburbs, the big challenge is repairing the existing highway system,” Christopher Leinberger, chair of the center for Real Estate and Urban Analysis at George Washington University, told Business Insider. “Ideally, there won’t be any new highway capacity built because we can’t afford to maintain what we have.”
Golf courses are shutting down
Playing golf was once a celebrated pastime. But today, many of the country’s golf courses are on the brink of shutting down or have closed already.
Over 800 golf courses have shuttered across the US in the past decade, and data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association has shown that millennials between the ages of 18 to 30 have a lack of interest in playing the game.
Casual dining is in crisis
For many years, suburban residents sought out the treat of going to casual dining chains.
But as more people choose to make their own food at home, the restaurant industry is in crisis.
The weakest link in the industry was casual dining, which was the bottom performer in all but two months of the year. The vast majority of these restaurants are in the suburbs.
Ruby Tuesday is in search of a new CEO and in the process of selling 95 restaurants amidst falling sales. Bloomin’ Brands, the parent company of casual dining chains including Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Grill, announced plans in Febuary to close 43 locations after a “challenging” 2016. Buffalo Wild Wings — where same-store sales fell 2.4% in 2016 — is engaged in a power struggle with activist investor Marcato Capital.
The suburbs are becoming unrecognizable
America’s neighbourhoods are changing like never before.
In this series, we will explore the cause of this phenomenon and the major shifts impacting the suburbs. We’ll also show what things will be like in the future.