People choose where to live based on a few underlying factors: proximity to where they work, preferred amenities like school quality or climate, and connections to social networks of family and friends. But the pandemic may have fundamentally changed some of these factors—loosening the need to live within daily commuting distance of workplaces and increasing preference for larger homes to accommodate telework. According to prevailing media narratives, the pandemic has “supercharged” suburbanization rates and even hastened the death of U.S. cities 

Homebuilders responded to this demand shift in 2020 by increasing single-family home construction in low-density areas, such as small metro area suburbs and small towns. The average size of new single-family homes also increased in 2021, following a period of decline between 2016 and 2020.  

Yet there is still widespread uncertainty around what is actually happening during the pandemic—and our post-pandemic future. One point is clear: Regions remain highly complex. And whatever short-term changes may be happening, planners and other regional leaders cannot lose sight of long-term needs: increasing the supply of smaller, moderately priced homes in compact, climate-friendly development patterns. Leaders can’t just plan for the current moment; they need to plan for a more resilient future. 

Did the pandemic boost demand for suburban living—or just continue long-term trends?

Looking at data on county-level population changes during the first year of the pandemic shows some evidence of flight from the densest, most expensive cities and major metro areas. But this largely continues pre-pandemic trends. Between July 1, 2020 and July 1, 2021, many core urban counties (those home to the largest city within a metro area) continued to experience greater population losses than their neighboring suburban counties. 

Read the full article about climate resiliency by Joseph Kane, Mona Tong and Jenny Schuetz at Brookings.