Research Desk
The Growth of Decentralized Suburban “Mini Hubs”
A San Francisco Bay Area case study in the rise of mixed use zoning - among other tools - as a means of driving sustainable economic growth at the fringes of urban cores
As the US continues to grapple with the widespread economic fall-out of the COVID-19 pandemic - which has shifted from widespread job loss due to lockdown to rampant inflation due to constrained supply chains - millions of households and businesses across the country continue to struggle to pay rent and mortgages, and face a future of long-term economic instability (Source 1).
Many Bay area renters, with as many as 1 in 6 having lost their job during the pandemic, face unstable housing situations, with businesses also having suffered equally, with as many as 15 percent having shut their doors permanently during these past months due to a steep drop in consumer spending (Source 2). Even with an eviction freeze and rounds of relief checks from the government, residents in most cities across the U.S. remain cost-burdened, and continue to contribute more than a third of their paycheck towards rent.
Small businesses - particularly in the service sectors - have seen a “Great Resignation” wave as workers tire of having to deal with increasingly unruly members of the public, low job satisfaction and stagnant wages. Even with near zero interest Paycheck Protection Program loans, the supply chain bottlenecks combined with difficulty in staffing and e-commerce taking over retail market share means that brick and mortar retail - the bedrock of suburban economies - faces an uphill battle to survive.
It is abundantly clear that there is no "return to normalcy." The general policy responses to Covid have flung the door open for paradigm shifts in American life that have been formulating for a decade or more. Desire for more fulfilling careers and balanced lifestyle by a Millennial generation coming into prime family-starting and home buying age has contributed to a wave of migration out of urban cores to the suburbs. At the same time, cities at the edges of urban cores currently face a major existential challenge, as they have largely failed to develop economic, services, and transit infrastructure to accommodate a flood of in-migration by America's largest generation.
Covid accelerated a longer term trend of moving away from urban cores into the suburbs
Over the 20th and early 21st century, most American metro areas have been physically developed to funnel movement of people, supplies, and finances from the outskirts towards the urban core. This unidirectional development pattern has lead to these suburban outskirts being ill-prepared to provide basic services to their citizens in the event of the kind of population surges that have been accelerated by Covid.
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