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What are Exurbs?

People may live in the exurbs and commute to work in a nearby city.
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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 13 April 2014
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Exurbs are settled regions beyond the boundaries of the suburbs of a city or major metropolitan area. In some cases, exurbs may be rural in nature, although some are more densely built, and all have a relatively low population density. Many suburbs begin as exurbs, and many exurbs are slowly swallowed up by the suburbs of the regions they neighbor as population growth expands, leading to increased demand for usable land.

These communities form as people leave the city for various reasons. Flight from the cities of the developed world really started to take off in the 1960s and 1970s, when car ownership became viable for most people. People started leaving the cities for fear of rising crime rates, or in response to demographic shifts such as a flood of minority residents entering the city for work. In the United States, this was referred to as “white flight,” reflecting the fact that many suburban and exurban settlers were white, and that race was a major motivator in leaving urban areas.

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Exurbs continue to form as people seek communities which are smaller and safer than the big cities in their regions. Some people believe that exurban living is better for children, giving children a chance to go to better schools and to live in a community where people are more familiar with each other. Others claim to dislike the hustle and bustle of the city, and to enjoy the quiet and room to garden, hike, bike, and engage in other outdoor activities in their communities.

The character of exurbs is quite varied. In studies of these regions, residents tend to be wealthier, better educated, and members of the dominant racial group of the region, in contrast with urban residents. Some exurbs are in fact playgrounds for wealthy individuals who want the luxury of larger lots and a quieter community, while others have a more middle-class character, housing people who simply want a bit more space than would be available in the city or the suburbs.

Many exurbs lack a major industry, which means that most of the citizens are forced to commute for work. In other cases, exurbs become isolated from the neighboring city, with residents rarely venturing into the city and making due with whatever local employment is available. Exurb residents tend to be less politically and socially involved in city life.

One problem for many exurbs is a rising cost of living caused by migration of people with higher incomes from the city. When a rural area starts to be colonized as an exurb, native residents may find themselves priced out of local real estate, and conflicts about social and political issues sometimes arise between newcomers and old-timers.

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