The End of the Suburbs

August 6, 2013

NOTE: Images in this archived article have been removed.

If you’re looking for one book that explains the transformation taking place in our cities, towns and neighborhoods it is Leigh Gallagher’s new book The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving. Gallagher’s straight forward, reasoned tone and meticulous research give her credibility when writing on subject matter that pretty much every American already believes they are an expert at. The book will challenge the pre-conceived notions of most, however, but do so in a way that is affirming of the American experience. This is the most important book of 2013.

Welcome to those of you that have found us through Leigh Gallagher’s great book, The End of the Suburbs. As stated in the book, Strong Towns and the Strong Towns movement began right here with this blog. We still post at least three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) along with a new video each Tuesday and a podcast on Thursdays. If you want to get caught up on what we’re doing here, you can check out the Strong Towns 101 info (see the drop down menu) or you can get a copy of the book we published last year. Thoughts on Building Strong Towns contains some of our best essays and is a good primer for Strong Towns thinking.

Image RemovedA couple of years ago I received a call from a reporter from Fortune magazine. She was well informed on Strong Towns and the related issues of growth and development. She also asked good questions. These are both rare attributes I appreciated greatly. We had a very enjoyable conversation and I remember hanging up with an unusually positive sense of where her work was going, although I could not have guessed that she would go on to author the most important book of 2013.

That reporter was actually the Assistant Managing Editor of Fortune magazine, Leigh Gallagher (Twitter/LinkedIn). Her book, The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream is Moving, is the work that America has been waiting for. It is timely, well researched and delightful to read. I can’t recommend it enough.

This is a topic that only a journalist could fully capture, and Gallagher does it expertly. She explains the trends that show suburban expansion waning without coming across as bashing the burbs. She breaks down why millenials and baby boomers are preferring urban living — and the implications for the future sales of all those suburban houses — with cool fact and icy reason. The most refreshing thing about this book is not the data — although that is impressive — but the tone.

This is a book my retired school teacher parents would read, two people that grew up in a suburbanizing America and still live on the hobby farm on the edge of the city. They’ll read it and not be offended when Gallagher explains that their way of life is highly subsidized, socially engineered and quickly becoming passe. She has a gift when it comes to explaining things that professionals have known for years yet been unable to communicate to the public.

That makes this not only the most important book of 2013 for our society, but a critical public policy document as well. If you want to do your community a favor, purchase each of your council members, planning commission members and senior staff a copy. From my vantage point, Gallagher’s work is going to be like a therapist for them, telling them what they need to hear in a way they will be able to accept and act upon. For Strong Towns advocates, there could hardly be a more powerful communication device.

That initial conversation I had with Leigh Gallagher preceded many more phone calls, emails and even a delightful breakfast conversation when our paths crossed. Each time we spoke I became more excited because I could see in her questions and comments that she was piecing it all together. With the zeal of a great reporter, she talked to everyone and fully immersed herself in this conversation. I’m so impressed by how hard she worked, something that will be apparent when you crack open the book.

This past spring I was in Miami for a speech and I had the occasion to stop by the DPZ office. When Andres Duany saw me he pointed at my face and said, "I know you. What is your name." When I told him he said, "That’s right, you’re in this book." He reached into the mess of his desk and fished out an early copy of The End of the Suburbs.

"This is going to be the most important book on the New Urbanism, maybe ever." We sat on a picnic table outside and, in the course of our conversation, he used a phrase with me that would end up as part of his blurb on the cover. "This book is a steel fist in a velvet glove," he said. As ever, Duany is brilliantly insightful.

For disclosure, the second chapter of the book, The Master Planned American Dream, contains quite a bit of information on Strong Towns. I’m very grateful that Leigh found that I and the work we are doing here added value to the story she is telling. It is not what I thought would happen when we first spoke and I’m deeply honored by it. She is a true professional, but with all the time we’ve spent chatting about this, especially now that the work is done, I feel like she has become something of a friend. She’s definitely a quality person who took this task very seriously. I’m cheering for her. (My wife, a reporter herself, questioned Gallagher’s accuracy as Leigh refers to me as "mild-mannered," a characterization my wife found absurd. In her defense, Leigh lives in New York City which does create a different baseline.)

You can watch a NBC news report about the shift in suburban living here.

Charles Marohn

Charles Marohn is a Professional Engineer (PE) licensed in the State of Minnesota and a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP). He is the Founder and President of Strong Towns. Marohn has a Bachelor's degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Minnesota's Institute of Technology and a Masters in Urban and Regional Planning from the University of Minnesota's Humphrey Institute. Marohn is the author of Thoughts on Building Strong Towns — Volume 1 and Volume 2 — as well as A World Class Transportation System. He hosts the Strong Towns Podcast and is a primary writer for Strong Towns’ web content. He has presented Strong Towns concepts in hundreds of cities and towns across North America.

Tags: suburbs, urban planning policy