As they swell, the suburbs are changing. Perhaps none ever quite resembled the colourless domestic enclaves popularised by 1970s television programmes such as “The Brady Bunch”; now, they look nothing at all like them. America's suburbs are ethnically and demographically mixed—sometimes more so than its cities. Many are less dormitories than economic powerhouses.But as new suburbs become new cities, old suburbs become old cities, with worries and problems of aging infrastructure and increasing crime. Those of us who would seek the welfare of the suburbs (and the whole metropolis) can see suburbia as heralding new opportunities for ministry and outreach as well as greater complexities and challenges.
According to William Frey, a demographer, the white population of big-city suburbs grew by 7% between 2000 and 2006. In the same period the suburban Asian population grew by 16%, the black population by 24% and the Hispanic population by an astonishing 60%. Many immigrants to America now move directly to the suburbs without passing through established urban ghettos. Having conquered suburbia, ethnic-minority groups are now swiftly infiltrating the more distant “exurbs”.
The most important reason people are moving to the suburbs is economic: that is where the jobs are. . . . In a forthcoming report, Alan Berube of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, calculates that 45% of the jobs in America's 100 biggest metropolitan areas are found more than ten miles from the downtown core. Between 1998 and 2004 fully three-quarters of all new jobs emerged in this area. Many of these new positions were filled by local people, who were delighted to drop their long commutes to traditional city centres. But more and more Americans wake up in one suburb and go to work in another. Others, including many of Google's Bay Area employees, wake up in a city and go to work in a suburb.
Next week I'll be at the Envision 08 conference in Princeton on "Gospel, Politics and the Future," and I'm speaking in one of the plenary sessions as part of a panel discussion on the future of the church. I'm going to talk briefly about the missional suburban church and how suburban Christians are grappling with changing realities. Should be a good conference. If you'll be there, say hi!