TODAY   |  August 01, 2013

Urban shift has Americans bidding farewell to suburbs

The proverbial American dream of white picket fences in suburbia seems to have lost its luster as a radical new housing trend shows families staying put in the city. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports.

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>>> home prices have posted their strongest annual gains in years. some are wondering if a dramatic shift is under way. mara, good morning to you.

>> good morning, savannah. america's geography isn't changing, but apparently americans are as a whole generation is saying farewell to the suburbs. where are they going and why? you just might be surprised. suburbia, the proverbial american dream with white picket fences and leave it to beaver innocence. but that dream may have lost its luster. after more than 60 years, families who once fled to the suburbs are now trying to escape or avoid them all together, says author lee gallagher .

>> we are in the middle of a major fundamental shift.

>> a radical new housing trend is under way, says gallagher , and pretty soon a lot more families may be living like this by choice.

>> this is our daughter's room. it's really small, but we've made it work.

>> reporter: a two-bedroom city apartment for a family of four, but the dalys wouldn't have it any other way.

>> the kids don't have a yard, but they get to walk home from a celtics game.

>> reporter: when many of their friends left the city to raise families in suburbia, bethany and jeff said, no thanks. urban is our scene, and we're staying put, raising two kids in boston's downtown financial district .

>> they've got endurance, and they've got street smarts .

>> reporter: they're not alone. in fact, they're part of the future landscape, according to lee gallagher 's new book, "the end of the suburbs."

>> everything you can possibly measure is pointing towards this idea that we are not expanding anymore into suburbia, and people want a different solution. people are sort of moving inward. they want more neighborhoods. they want more communities.

>> that's what asha sharma wanted, so she moved back to downtown seattle after she tried suburban life in downtown bellevue.

>> over all, i missed the energy and the bustle and the pulse of being part of something.

>> reporter: grueling commutes, waning car culture, and a sense of isolation are fueling the suburban rejection, according to gallagher . what is it that people do want?

>> what people want is really a sense of liveliness and neighborhood identity and community.

>> reporter: of the estimated 132 million homes across the country, about 80% are in metropolitan regions , and of that 80%, more than half are in the suburbs. but for the first time in almost a century, our largest cities are growing at a faster rate than the suburbs. metro areas with 5 million-plus people saw double digit downtown population growth between 2000 and 2010 , according to the u.s. census .

>> sort of like proximity is the new location, location, location. it's access, access, access. people want to be near the things they want to do, and the future is going to look very different.

>> reporter: that future is what denise and gary gibson are seeking by selling their oversized six-bedroom suburban chicago home.

>> we thought that it was a good time for us to transition.

>> reporter: downsizing to move their family from long grove to libertyville, granted from one suburb to another, but to a brand new suburban/urban street development with a deliberately nostalgic close knit design.

>> thank you.

>> reporter: this is why. community and camaraderie driven by proximity.

>> it's the old front porch revival. it's bringing back the neighborhood.

>> reporter: experts suggest the trend may be linked to a decrease in the long-term birth rate as well as a decline in the marriage rate. savannah?