Jargon Watch: 'Hipsturbia'

A new trend happening in suburbs and small towns near successful big cities.

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©. BNKC Architects

"Suburbia is what we make it." That's the last line of Amanda Kolson Hurley's eye-opening book, "Radical Suburbs," which demonstrates how the suburbs are not all "soul-destroying wastelands." In fact, the suburbs are now being made into something completely different; According to Emerging Trends in Real Estate 2020 from PWC and the Urban Land Institute, the suburbs are being reinvented.

From dense northeastern cities like Philadelphia, to Sun Belt giants like Atlanta, to boutique markets like Charleston, our interviewees and focus groups have uncovered the desire of suburbs to create their own versions of the live/work/play district. There is a term of art being heard to capture this concept: hipsturbia.
There is a common thread in these successful suburbs: connections. They tend to be walkable, and have good transit connecting them to the cities they grew out of. But they also can stand on their own.
Leading 24-hour cities like New York City, San Francisco, and Chicago anchor networks of communities that can be named “hipsturbias.” Brooklyn might be the prototype, although it is now hard to remember how recently that borough transitioned from slipping to soaring. But now New Jersey communities including Hoboken, Maplewood, and Summit are on that rising trajectory—several of them well along the path. North of Manhattan, the same is true of Yonkers and New Rochelle. All have excellent transit access, strong walk scores, and an abundance of retail, restaurants, and recreation.
East City Facade
 © BNKC Architects

It's a phenomenon I have seen around where I live in Toronto, Canada, where cities and towns that were always distinct and separate have become hipsturbias. I was recently invited by BNKC Architects (architects of a new Toronto timber tower) to have a look at East City Condos, a building they designed for a brownfield site in Peterborough, Ontario, 80 miles from Toronto. It's a former blue-collar town with what was the most beautiful modern university campus in the country (they are doing their best to muck it up) that I always considered to be a town in cottage country, rather than a suburb. I thought it interesting that they were building such a big, urban structure in such a place, and suspected it was going to be occupied by baby boomers cashing out of Toronto or locals selling out of their houses.

East City roof lounge
 © BNKC Architects

But when they launched this condo in the fall, they did it in Toronto, and it didn't just attract boomers but also young people, often with young families, who now consider it to be within commuting distance, thanks to a new highway and soon-to-be-improved train service, and what seems to be the city's rebirth as hipsturbia.

East City interior
 © BNKC Architects

What does it take to become hipsturbia? A mixed-use environment, a "constant supply of young adults," and "more manageable housing costs than in the booming center of town."

As more and more suburbs—not all, but those with the right recipe—attract a critical mass of “hip” residents, their success will become increasingly visible. This will multiply the number of imitators, keeping the trend going. This, in part, will be the pragmatic answer to “will the millennials [and the following generations] follow the boomer generation’s pattern of migrating to the suburbs?” The response is, “Some will and some won’t,” and also “To some suburbs and not others.” If the live/work/play formula could revive inner cities a quarter century ago, there is no reason to think that it will not work in suburbs with the right bones and the will to succeed.
East City Condos
 © BNKC Architects

Peterborough certainly has nice bones. And while nobody can be enthusiastic about commuters doing 80-mile drives, it's exciting to see the rise of hipsturbias, the densification of suburbs, and the revitalization of formerly industrial cities.