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For Some Businesses, Suburbs Have Lost Their Glow — the City Beckons

10:30 AM EDT on April 28, 2010

3267275825_3c494a759e.jpgDoes this look like the future to you? (Photo: mattmarque via Flickr)

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Mary Newsom at The Naked City points us to an article in the new Harvard Business Review about how some major corporations are looking to move operations from the suburbs to the city.

The HBR article suggests that the move, by companies such as United Air Lines and Quicken Loans, is part of a larger demographic shift based on a new awareness of the appeal of cities -- and the disadvantages of sprawl:

The change is imminent, and businesses that don’t understand and plan for it may suffer in the long run.

To put it simply, the suburbs have lost their sheen: Both young workers and retiring Boomers are actively seeking to live in densely packed, mixed-use communities that don’t require cars -- that is, cities or revitalized outskirts in which residences, shops, schools, parks, and other amenities exist close together. “In the 1950s, suburbs were the future,” says University of Michigan architecture and urban-planning professor Robert Fishman, commenting on the striking cultural shift. “The city was then seen as a dingy environment. But today it’s these urban neighborhoods that are exciting and diverse and exploding with growth.”

The change is about more than evolving tastes; it’s at least partly a reaction to real problems created by suburbs. Their damage to quality of life is well chronicled. For instance, studies in 2003 by the American Journal of Public Health and the American Journal of Health Promotion linked sprawl to rising obesity rates. (By contrast, new research in Preventive Medicine demonstrates, people living in more urban communities reap health benefits because they tend to walk more.) Car culture hurts mental health as well. Research by behavioral economist Daniel Kahneman and his team shows that out of a number of daily activities, commuting has the most negative effect on people’s moods. And economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer have found that commuters who live an hour away from work would need to earn 40% more money than they currently do to be as satisfied with
their lives as noncommuters.

The Congress for the New Urbanism, which holds its annual conference in Atlanta next month, gets a nice hat tip in the piece, too.

More from around the network: American Dirt has a piece on the anatomy of a fading mall in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Transportation for America covers a rally against transit cuts by transportation workers. And Hard Drive calls out Bike Snob NYC for dissing a bike chapel in Portland.

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