Spotlight on suburbia, a series: Part 2.

Diana Sanchez

Diana Sanchez, Senior Associate

A developing demographic.

In this series, we’re looking at how suburbia might evolve over the next 20 years, considering the myriad of social, economic, political, and environmental factors. Ultimately, we hope it will put suburbia in the spotlight, and highlight new ways to build and deliver housing in this most vital of living environment.

One of the key drivers for change that I talked about in Part 1 of this series is the changing demographic of suburbia. In trying to understand the needs of the future suburban dweller we need to understand the myriad of demographic changes.

This makeup of suburbia will be a product of many unpredictable political, social, and economic factors.

At a suburban level, interplay between multiple factors will see a demographic flux; projections indicate an increasing ethnic diversity in suburbia, as well as an increase in the number of low-income households.

Census projections indicate a likely direction of travel for the national suburban population as a whole…

Demographic snapshot.

–13.7 million people living in *suburban areas.
– 80% of suburbs rank in least deprived areas of the country.
– ‘Cities Renaissance’ is forcing low-income people into suburban areas.

Prediction for 20 years from now.
– 15 million people living in suburban areas.
– 65-89 age group increases by 5%.
– 90 age group living in suburbia rises by 140%.
– More ethnic and cultural diversity in suburbia.
– More affordable housing in suburbia.

*Our definition of suburbia refers to Census 2011, which refers to the population located on the outskirts of urban areas.

Ageing population and growth.

Projections indicate that the suburban population will continue to grow at a similar rate to the national population, at an annual average of 0.5% over the next 20 years. Thus, 15 million will be living in suburban areas by 2037. Since 1960, the average life expectancy of a person in the UK has increased by 10 years to 81. The result is an ageing population, with more complex needs. This, coupled with a general population growth will cause an increased strain on public services and a higher demand for housing.However, not all age groups are anticipated to grow at the same pace. The greatest change in the next 20 years manifests itself as a drastic ageing of the suburban population. Overall, the plus-65-year age group will grow at a rate 10 times greater than the national annual average, while the 25-65-year-old demographic change will be static, representing a smaller proportion of the total suburban population compared to present day.

The proportion of nuclear households, considered quintessentially suburban by many, is projected to decrease by 2%, to represent 27% of the total suburban population. The average household size is also anticipated to reduce.

Suburban social mix.

Although suburban areas have been traditionally inhabited by British white and affluent population, there has been a recent mobility of people with different ethnicities and varied socio-economic backgrounds from city centres to the suburbs.

In particular, we’re seeing this around big cities (Leeds, Birmingham, Nottingham and Leicester) where all minority groups are drifting out of the inner city. As a result, the traditional profile of the suburban dweller is likely to change, with more diverse people living in these areas, from different revenue groups and mixed ethnicity.

This has the potential to open different housing markets and models in the suburban settings.

Overall, suburban areas have lower levels of unemployment compared to national average. It is expected that unemployment rates would rise following national trends (within the period between 2019-2025), largely due to the potential negative consequences of Brexit.

However, it is quite uncertain how Brexit will affect jobs creation in specific areas, as well as its impact on the construction industry, which is likely to affect the provision of housing. The quality of life in suburbs will be also determined by the type of suburban model adopted, which is largely influenced by the densities, land use and housing mix and mobility model.

So far, suburbs have been designed replicating a model that is largely shaped by tradition and a similar demographic profile. Yet the new generation of suburbanites wants a different type of landscape.

If new suburbs can understand the changing demographic and accommodate the priorities of these new populations, then life in suburbia will be redefined.

Read part 3.