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The move to America’s exurbs

Posted by John T. Reed on

USPS reports a 37% increase in permanent changes of address to exurban areas. The National Association of Home Builders says there has been a 20% increase in new home construction permits issued in exurban areas.
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I call that dispersion. I have been predicting it since the invention of the Internet in the 1990s.
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I myself have been an example of it since having a new home building in an unincorporated exurban area in 1983. There is a state park at the end of my street. I drive past cattle pasture and deer and wild turkeys daily. Less frequent sightings of bobcats, coyotes, condors, tarantulas, pheasants, rattlesnakes.
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Direct mail merchants, as they used to be called, can offer lower prices and a wider range of choices than brick-and-mortar retailers. BLM rioters and mass shoplifters also discourage retailers from brick-and-mortar stores.
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Democrat mayors lenienting their cities into drug-infested, sewage on the sidewalk, crime-ridden, leftist ideological, “compassion” centers are also part of flight to the exurbs.
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The latest impetus is the remote work caused by covid 19. I became a remote worker as a full-time writer in 1978. I saw anecdotal evidence of computer workers working from home and moving permanently to resort areas and such and reported on it.
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Does this mean you should invest in exurban areas to cash in on this?
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No. That misses the point. Dispersion does not mean B is now more valuable than A. It means high-value areas like the vaunted traditional “central business district” (CBD) erode and that their peak values wash down into the valleys like hills subject to much rain. The high values of the CBD are “eroding” down into the exurbs.
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So the rise in values of the exurban areas is not the mirror image of the drop in value of the CBD. Dispersion means a diminution in population density.
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Say your local CBD had 1,000 workers per 1/4 acre during business hours. Is your local exurban area now going to have those 1,000 workers per 1/4 acre. No, it’s dispersion. Your local exurban area will grow from maybe one to two workers per 1/4 acre. The 1,000 migrants will land in 1,000 different 1/4 spots.
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I read a book early in the internet revolution that was titled “The Death of Distance.” Great title, unmemorable book.
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It has long been said that the three most important things in real estate are location location, and location. Those were also said to be the three most important things in retail.
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Location is another word for distance. A location is valuable because of its proximity to places people frequently visit. Real estate ads brag about how close they are to mass transit, shopping, school, restaurants, recreation areas, highways, offices, and so on.
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The exurban homes are not all being bought by refugees from the big cities and metro areas. Those folks move into the suburbs and thereby encourage the previous residents of those places to sell their close-in homes and buy another in the exurbs.
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Another theme I have long pushed is that the weather we regarded as “C’est la vie” ambient in the Northeast and Midwest has been discovered by more traveled Americans to be a curse of those latitudes, no longer a necessary evil.
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But I must add that I hate humidity and so do my oldest and youngest sons who visited Austin and Nashville in recent months to check them out as a possible place to live. They decided to stay in CA.
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I am not sure the more-traveled Americans are quite enough traveled to understand that hot humid weather is not a necessary evil either. Coastal CA and HI are year-round pleasant. Other areas like FL and AZ offer seasonal snow-bird pleasant weather for about half the year.
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This is a return to America’s geographic roots. A majority of Americans lived on farms in 1900. My father grew up on a WV subsistence farm until he graduated from high school in 1933 at which time he promptly and permanently fled to the Philly metro area.
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But they are NOT returning to the occupation of the 1800s—farming. They are participants in the information revolution not the industrial revolution that caused the death of the farms.
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This is a big deal, just as was the Industrial revolution and the move from the cities to the suburbs in the 1950s caused by mass production of affordable cars.
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It has a profound strategic military implication. The internet was actually created by DARPA, a military project to disperse communication hubs to make them less vulnerable to nuclear attacks.
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Nuclear weapons each devastate about a 2.8-mile diameter circle. In the era of the CBD, there were many such important places. But nuking exurbs is not really viable. So this recent remote working trend makes America less vulnerable to nuclear weapons. That is a good thing.

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