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Why Boomers are Bailing on the 'Burbs

David Callahan
There's been a lot of debate lately about whether Americans are starting to favor cities over suburbs in significant numbers. Every city I visit -- most recently, Lincoln, Nebraska -- I see new housing going up in downtown areas, and it's said that Millennials prefer the walkability and diversity of urban life. Still, the 'burbs keep expanding, and I've seen a lot of that, too: Like in the I-25 corridor south of Denver. 
But here's one emerging trend that seems likely to grow, and fast: Baby Boomers -- the largest generation of property owners in U.S. history -- are bailing on the 'burbs. So far, Boomers leaving the suburbs is still a modest trickle, but don't be surprised if we start to see a much larger exodus, and one that reconfigures American life. 
It's not a mystery why Boomers would split from their split-levels. As I wrote earlier today, suburbs are pricey education clubs, where parents pay huge mortgages and property taxes in order to send their kids to good schools. But once kids head off to college, there's no longer a compelling reason to be in this club. Instead, with college tuition bills hitting hard and retirement looming, it makes sense to downsize. 
But there's another reason to leave the leafy lanes as you age: These places aren't so great for old people, which further underscores -- on top of the ecological, health, and equity imperatives -- why we should push Americans back to the cities by attacking the huge tax breaks propping up the suburbs. 
Here's why it can be a bummer to be old in the 'burbs. 
First, these places can be very lonely for seniors. Much of the community of suburbia centers around schools, and if your kids aren't in them, it may be hard to connect with people. 
Second, driving becomes more problematic as you get older, especially driving at night, which can deepen social isolation. A car-centric setting is not where you want to be as your eyesight and reflexes fade. You want to be in an elevator building with cabs and buses on the street. 
Third, maintaining homes becomes more difficult -- and, in fact, dangerous with seniors routinely falling or injuring themselves while shoveling snow or dealing with ice.
Fourth, access to home healthcare can be dicey, since low paid health aides often don't have cars and can't get to isolated seniors.
What kind of civilization organizes itself in a way hostile to its elders? 

As America ages, get ready for a population shift toward the cities. With Boomers fleeing, and Millennials favoring the cities, the future doesn't look bright for suburban home prices.