The "exurbs" and "exurbia"

I’m reading an article on the political climate of Florida, and the author keeps using the terms “exurbs” and “exurbia”, and describing population centers that I’ve always identified with as “suburbs” and “suburbia”. Is the author on crack, or is there a new crappy term out there that I wasn’t aware of?

Nope. It’s just a term that doesn’t get much use.

Here’s a definition:

Now, whether or not these areas are becoming more popular is anyone’s guess. White flight from the suburbs?

The Wikipdia has this to say:

And it’s not all that new. This etymology site dates it to 1955:

Interesting. Apparently I lived in an exurb for most of my formative years and have never heard the term. Has anyone else heard the term before this thread?

What word would describe a community that is too far away from the city in question but is often populated with people from that city? Need an example?

New Haven, Connecticut. It’s about 80 miles from New York. But seeing as it’s the home of Yale University, and a fair number of its undergraduates would tend to be New Yorkers, can we call it an “exurb” of New York?

Or here’s a better example: Macomb, Illinois. It’s a good 200 miles from Chicago, but nearly 80% of the students at Western Illinois University are from Chicago, meaning that on any day about 40% of the people in the town are from Chicago. Is Macomb an “exurb” of Chicago?

Since I worked in agriculture-related fields for 20 years, I’ve heard the term “exurbs” for a long time – the context being traditional rural areas that were swallowed up by the continued expansion of the suburbs (which of course were traditionally rural areas swallowed up by the continued expansion of the orginal central cities – but I digress.) The less-important term was “far suburbs.”

The supposed difference between exurbs and suburbs is that suburbs tended to be “bedroom communities” while exurbs were farther away from the central city and had a life of their own before the damn commuters came in and upset everything.

F’rinstance, northern New Jersey near the Delaware Gap is now considered to be an exurb of New York; Elgin, Aurora and Joliet are exurbs of Chicago; and just about everything in southern California is an exurb of either L.A. or San Diego.

Doesn’t fit too well with the “well-to-do” part of the definition, but I see your point.

I think a lot of people now use the term “bedroom community” instead of exurbs.

I used to hear the term exurbia used back around 1990, when I was working for a firm that did Highway planning and designing.

I have also heard of it often-- and in the sense described by kunilou. “suburbs” being the residential sprawl into what had been the farmlands around cities, where the focus of activity had already been feeding that city, while “exurbs” would be sprawl into what had been farmlands associated with small-town conurbations – often leapfrogging what would be the apparent “natural” expansion, since the land immediately next to the preexisting suburb would have gone up in value, so that there is often no “continuous” urbanization, even of the strip-zoning kind, up to the exurb.

This fits the description of where I work to a T. I got the job from a friend of my step-fathers, and the location is 30 minutes from my house, about 45 from Downtown Atlanta. Driving out there, I saw houses and gated comunities that where far better than what I have. Not to mention the Not quite a strip or mini mall, and not quite a mall development. Also Private schools and LARGE chruches also pepper the area.

If I would be so bold as to add to the defintion,

I think most Exurbianites are Nouveau Riche… and have enogh money to completely lose and not feel the effects of it.


Aurora’s and Elgin’s median family incomes are between $50-$60K. Even Joliet’s is almost $50K. That’s a bit more than Chicago’s average of $39K (2000 Census figures.) They may not be Winnetka, but those three exurbs are fairly well-to-do, despite the popular conception.

Huh. I’ll be damned. On second thought, I do have to say that Elgin’s pretty nice, but Aurora? Must be all those people escaping from Naperville and Joilet? I’ll take your word for it.

I’d say no on both counts. Usually, in order to be an “exurb” of a city, the people in the exurb need to do business or spend a significant time in the center city – there’s some implication of a reasonable amount of commuting being done on a mostly daily basis. Simply containing a fair number of visitors or expatriates from another city does not an exurb make. Heck, I spent a week in Phoenix and it seemed like everyone I met there had moved from LA. That doesn’t make Phx an exurb of LA.

One of the practical effects (although not a definition) of an exurb is that the people who live there may only be indirectly connected to the central city.

Most people here seem comfortable with Chicagoland as an example. When my father retired he had an apartment downtown. But he then moved to Gurnee. Most of the people living around him didn’t work or do business in Chicago, but instead at the big office parks in Lake County.

Elgin & Aurora aren’t exburbs, they are as about as old as Chicago (of course they weren’t “suburbs” all of there existence). Exburbs to me are new towns built mostly whole cloth on farmland in the recent past. If you want an example of a classic Chicago exburb, I think Huntley fits the bill rather well. Huntley sits about five miles west of Elgin along I-90.

About only 15 years ago the town was basically just another small farm town on the edge of Chicago. Then around 1993 or so, an outlet mall was built at the interchange of I-90 & Hwy 47 and suddenly Huntley was something more than a name on an exit sign. Now…

…it looks like a mini-Naperville-to-be. Flying into Chicago last year I was absolutely shocked at the sight of brand new developments surrouding the outlet mall on land that had been farmland as recently as the mid nineties. I’m willing to bet there are further examples west of Aurora on I-88 and even over the border in Wisconsin. Where did these people come from? Probably from closer-in suburbs that were fully built out in the 1960s and 1970s.

FWIW, when I was in college (in Macomb, IL), I met people who were from Chicago suburbs who had set foot in the city maybe twice in their lives.

COLLEGE CLASSMATE: I’m from Chicago. Well, Tinely Park to be specific.

ME: Cool. Must be fun going to the big city all the time, shopping on Michigan Avenue, checking out games at Wrigley Field…

COLLEGE CLASSMATE: Actually, I think I went to the Field Museum on a field trip when I was in 5th grade. I haven’t been into town since then.

ME: :eek:

COLLEGE CLASSMATE: My parents tried to avoid the city whenever possible. Traffic, yada yada yada. Everything we needed was in or near Tinely Park…

Familiar term to me, but I’m a student of urban planning. Amusing, though, because the term has never been defined very precisely in our classes. But an exurb is also called an “edge city”, and it’s a fairly new phenomenon - sorta a cross between an outer-ring suburb and a separate town. They often have their own commercial districts - while often the suburbs are simple bedroom communities. In fact, in some areas businesses are beginning to set up headquarters in exurban areas - their upper middle class employees often wish to live in the countryside, without the long commute entailed by worked in the center city.

Unlike suburbanites, who, not living far away from the city might go there for cultural events, to shop, to eat out, and to engage in the many other commercial transactions that the suburbs generally don’t fully support, exurbs are far enough from city centers that they tend to develop their own commercial districts. They grow, thus ruining the rural feel, and chasing the rich white people further out.

The phenomenon of the exurbs is tremendously damaging in its impact on rural areas - continuously, and voraciously, eating farmland - and moreso on city centers: it draws the money further and further from the city. They are unsustainable because their formation inevitably involves losing the rural character that the folks move their to enjoy. Also, with the move of business from the city center, both white collar jobs and low-skill support jobs are fleeing city centers. There’s less business, less work, and so forth - causing the decay of city centers in many places to hasten.

Oh, and fiddlesticks: a lot of exurbs are fairly old. Most of them, in fact, are not new per se. At one point, they were fairly smallish towns quite aways from the city, but as the suburbs creeped ever outward, they inevitably end up closer to the urbanized area. What’s new about them is the impact that flight from the cities has had on them, and the impact they in turn have on cities, along with the loss of open land.

I grew up in Dekalb County, GA in the 60s/70s, which I suppose qualified as Atlanta proper: it was one of the “five counties” of the common working definition of the time, and our mailing address was Atlanta [unlike some other states, not every bit of land actually belongs to a town, but you need a town for your addess, unless you’re on a bookdocks RFD delivery route). More specifically, we were just past Executive park, a business district on I-85, the perimeter highway of Atlanta, and a couple of miles “in town” from Emory University

I would describe the community as throughly suburban: subdivisions with everything I’d associate with suburbia. Yet, we had absolutely no relation to the “city”. Most of the adults worked within a few miles, or a quick commute along the I-85 necklace in iother suburban settings. Almost none commuted into the city proper. Looking back, I’m really surprised by how little contact I had with the “city” – maybe once a year, when my parents were showing visiting guests around, and three school field trips.

Despite actually being in Atlanta, and adjoining a major commercial development it was pretty much an exurb, by the economic/social definition. I never thought much about it, but I was friends with the only son of the family that had owned most of the land in our area (as dairy pasture land) a few decades before, so I suppose it was an exurb in that sense too.

I moved to a “suburb” of Boston in the late 70s. We considered ourselves a suburb, though towns closer in tended to draw the line at I-95, and our town fell a few hundred yards outside that marker.

We were a bedroom community - a place where you slept but didn’t do much else. A lot of chain stores and other facilities/services in town were closing then, not because of economic downturns (which did affect many nearby cities and towns), but because such commercial enterprises were moving to other nearby suburbs (like Burlington, home of what was then one of the largest malls in New England) The towns immediately adjoining us were either suburbs (of Boston or Lowell) or completely rural communties with lots of commuting into Boston.

The differences between adjoining town were marked, even though the towns themselves were physically small by the stanadards of most of the nation. It wasn’t uncommon to literally see the lines between towns: the character of the houses, or even the roads and sidewalks, changed within a 1-foot distance!

The term “exurb” was very well known and used in the area at that time. Most towns between I-95 and I-495 were clearly exurbs by universal agreement. I had friends in Harvard MA (outside 495, and less than half as far from Worcester as Boston, yet fairly clearly an exurb of Boston, not Worcester) It was a refuge for executives from the city, including some of its leading high-tech CEOs. (Some began their own exurban companies generally associated with Boston, but much nearer other major Massachusetts cities (e.g. Digital and NEC in Maynard near Worcester, and Wang which was actually physically in Lowell)

Harvard, on the very outskirts of the Boston exurbs, was embroiled in classic exurban political upheaval, e.g. “the pig and asparagus war”. Asparagus is a manure-intensive crop, and the local pig farms were particularly malodorous, which offended the newcomers (though the smell was obvious before they bought their homes). The problem was that a farmera who sold a small parcel of their land as a (lucrative) housing development quickly found themselves outvoted in town meetings by the 40 one-acre tracts they’d created. The newcomers in a few small areas of town came very close to actually outlawing types of farms and industries that had been there for generations. (For all I know, they eventually succeeded).

I’ve always found these examples interesting, and I hope others do too. I suspect they are more representative of real conditions around the country than the stereotypes of sunurbs and exurbs, yet even local reporters often seemed blinded by the labels, and misperceived the character of the towns themselves.

Yo, KP, fascinating post! It really illustrates a lot of things about how towns work. I hope the farmers hung on - on a real, legal basis the new residents have no right to complain, but of course city politics is always its own beast.