a boots-on-the-ground view of the change that's a-foot

First Suburbs Come First

by Tao, Carrboro, NC

I love my neighborhood – it is quiet, but close to the action and amenities of town. I grew up this way, and I’ve continued to be drawn to these familiar, convenient and vibrant areas. I live in an “inner-ring” suburb, also referred to as “first” suburbs, or “early” suburbs.

These are the first areas developed at the fringes of inner cities several decades ago. The inner suburbs were the quieter but connected neighborhoods of the working class – the places our newly wed parents and grandparents went to raise their children. These areas provided escape from the grime of the city, but proximity to jobs, schools, stores, entertainment, and, each other.

The evolution of these areas made a lot of sense – allowing public transportation to flourish, more parks and recreation, as well as a convenient pedestrian lifestyle – where more people were more fit (really – look at the old black ‘n whites in your grandmother’s attic).

But we somehow lost some of that common sense when we began to focus our time, energy, money and attention on these lavish developments in the outer suburbs fueled by economic interest of developers, highway builders, oil companies and the auto industry who all, of course, feed on a more car-dependent lifestyle. Unfortunately, despite what we’ve learned – or relearned – about the benefits of urban life, sprawl continues at an alarming rate.

As a result, the inner-suburbs are deteriorating both by age and neglect with outmoded housing and commercial buildings. As neighborhoods decay, pockets of poverty soon follow, marring the image and desirability of once thriving communities.

Some areas manage to adopt a “cool” factor, attracting a hip crowd of well-to-dos, but also bringing a gentrification which quickly eliminates both diversity and affordability. Many other inner-surburban areas suffer from lack of political support, considered to be in a policy blind spot as local governments compete for the spotlight.

Alex Steffen, futurist, founder and editor of, (interviewed by Johnathan Hiskes on says that this political conflict will define the next decade, becoming a critical factor in the future of urban life. He also regrets being at war with the ‘burbs: “But there are so many more winners than losers in this fight that it’s a smart fight to take on…When you add together cities and inner-ring suburbs and allied small towns, it’s a solid majority of Americans.”


2 Responses to “First Suburbs Come First”

  1. phyllisdiehl Says:

    thanks for teaching me this about neighborhoods, i like you lived in the inner suburban area, my childhood was always close to the stores, stopping for a soda, buying bread, and even the opportunity to buy presents for my family, and i never had to ask for a ride, i always thought that i was so fortunate to have that kind of childhood. how happy that you and your family can enjoy this kind of life.

  2. RyK Says:

    So basically what you’re saying is that your inner suburb is now experiencing what major cities (ie: Detroit) experienced when the first suburbs (like yours) were built? To put it mildly, overpopulation breeds human migration. Children move away from parents and must find a home of their own. This is why My once “hickville” country town has become overdeveloped and overpopulated. It once took five minutes to drive from the south end of town to the north end. Now, thanks to too much traffic and no ability to widen the roads, it takes 20 minutes to drive the same distance, and you’re lucky if no one tries to side-swipe your car as they turn onto the only main street. In 15 years (from the time I learned to drive until I was 30), the population of my town grew roughly 500%, and that’s no exaggeration.

    I personally believe we need to get the inner-cities back on track so that people who enjoy the city-life can go back where they are comfortable, and leave the country to those who enjoy their wide open spaces and farm “fresh” air. Migrated city and suburb people are always complaining about the “stench” of our horses…well they were here before you, so you shouldn’t have a say about what I do with my land. Detroit city and certain suburbs have the “stench” of factories, which is why I wouldn’t want to live there. But that’s why I say people should fix up the city and make it vibrant again, so all that land, and all that potential, isn’t wasting away anymore. Change, in this case, would be for the better.

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