Media native Leigh Gallagher is the author behind The End of the Suburbs: Where the American Dream Is Moving (Portfolio, 272 pages), an engaging look at how the suburbs as we know them will, at some point, cease to exist. Blame it on the millennials (among others), says Gallagher, who lives in New York, where she’s an editor at Fortune magazine.
MLT: So you live in Manhattan, but this book isn’t about people fleeing the suburbs.
LG: Absolutely not. That’s not realistic for our country and most people. But there’s an incredible desire for livelier, vibrant urban areas, whether that’s in a city or a suburb. One of the biggest changes is a real shift in demand for walkable, action-packed, richly vibrant downtowns in suburbs. It’s one of the biggest trends, in terms of how and where people live, that has really hit our country in decades. I kind of stumbled upon this pretty sizable, tangible, overwhelming shift in terms of the priorities that Americans have placed on where they want to live. “Urban burbs” are towns that were built and planned that way a long time ago. There’s this incredible movement to urbanize the suburbs—and you see many different formats all across the country.
MLT: You grew up in Media. Is that the ideal suburb?
LG: Yes, basically. I come at this topic more as a journalist, so I was learning a lot about this as I was doing the book. The more I looked into what makes a town pleasant and rich and truly urban, the more I started thinking differently about Media. I’ve always loved Media, and I was always proud that I grew up in this great little town. The more I did my research, the more I realized how unique it is, because there aren’t that many small towns that have all the things Media has.
MLT: Did you refer back to the towns of the Main Line often during your research?
LG: Yes. Philadelphia is probably the best example of “railroad suburbs” and how they emerged. I use that example when I give talks about the book.
MLT: What was one of the most surprising things that came up during your research?
LG: The nuclear family, which used to be half of all households in the country, is down closer to a third—maybe less. The birthrate is going down, and people are getting married later. The nuclear family is becoming a minority household type. When my dad grew up in Drexel Hill in the 1950s, there were 41 children on his block alone. I hired a private investigator to go knock on doors to find out how many kids were currently on that block in 2012, and there were fewer than 15. That’s playing out across our country.
MLT: So what will the suburbs look like in 2034?
LG: A patchwork of many different types of communities. I see more of this in-between suburb, not a cul-de-sac suburb and not totally urban—more places that look like the towns of the Main Line. They’re already being developed now.