Suburbs in the U.S.: Characteristics & Common Issues

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  • 0:04 Suburbs
  • 0:43 Suburbanization
  • 1:50 Peripheral Model
  • 3:19 Segregation
  • 5:01 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

Many people want to live near a city but prefer the quiet and space offered outside the city. In this lesson, we'll explore suburbs in the United States, including the peripheral model, and trends, characteristics, and common issues of suburbs.


Charles lives just outside of a city in an area where there are a lot of houses but not much else. He likes that it's quiet and that he can still go into the city if he wants to see a sporting event or go to the theater.

Charles is living in a suburb, or outlying district of a city, and like many people, Charles lives in the suburbs but works in the city. He commutes in every day to work and then goes home in the afternoon.

Let's look closer at suburbs in the United States, including the suburbanization movement, the peripheral model of suburbs, and issues of segregation in suburbia.


Charles lives in the suburbs, as do a lot of people, but Charles' grandparents lived in the city. In fact, most people in their generation lived in the city!

A hundred years ago, living in the suburbs was not the popular choice. Most people either lived in cities or in small towns, but few chose to live in the outlying districts of the city. It was just too difficult; if they worked in the city, it was hard to get to work if you lived too far away.

In the years leading up to World War II, though, suburbs rose in popularity as people began to own cars. Cars meant that they could live in the suburbs and work in the city and that they had a way to get to and from work.

The popularity of the suburbs really boomed after World War II when an interstate system and demand for new homes increased the rate at which people moved out of cities. Suburbanization, or a migration from the cities to the suburbs, was a major hallmark of the years after World War II, and so, people, like Charles, live in the suburbs even though their grandparents didn't.

Peripheral Model

As we've talked about, the suburbs are the outlying districts of a city. Often, suburbs are separate towns that border a city, and sometimes they are part of the city but just the furthest parts.

Urban expansion, sometimes called urban sprawl, involves a city expanding via suburbs. For example, Charles lives in the suburbs of a city. When he was a kid, there weren't very many suburbs, just one or two, but now, there are many, many suburbs as more people move to the area, and the city and existing suburbs become more and more populated.

Closely related to urban expansion is suburban sprawl, which happens when the suburbs expand into rural communities. As more and more suburbs become crowded, new suburbs crop up in what used to be farmland. Take Charles: when he was a kid, the suburb he lives in was right between the city and farmland, but more suburbs have grown, and now there are many suburbs between him and farmland.

The peripheral model explains how a city is often surrounded by a large ring of suburbs all linked together via a beltway. So, in Charles' case, the city is at the center, and the suburbs surround it on all sides. Then, more suburbs surround those, and so on. The peripheral model works well on cities, like the one where Charles is, that have had lots of urban and suburban sprawl.


Charles loves the suburb where he lives. There are a lot of great things about it: it's more quiet than the city, but he can still access all of the great things that are available in the city. He loves his neighbors and generally has a great time.

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