Whose Suburbs Are We Talking About Again?

Suburbs, Virginia (6045440309)

One of my pet peeves in reading through the various press on metropolitan areas is when the notion of suburb (and on occasion urban)  is mislabeled. This happens one of two ways, when an incorporated town, and sometimes city is labeled a suburb and when suburb is used as a euphemism for white American.

I can give people who mislabel the first way a pass. Suburbs are just classified differently in the NYC and DC areas. Montgomery County is a county of neighborhoods. Arlington is really a county. But I’m sorry,  Alexandria, the city, actually predates the District of Columbia by 42 years. Yes, it became part of the district for a period of time, but not without a fight and not without later leaving the district. Meanwhile, down in North Carolina, our friend Cary is forever being mislabeled. Yes, it’s a city of many subdivisions. However, it has never been part of Raleigh and is the seventh largest city in North Carolina. Speaking of cities in North Carolina, there are several that have been labeled as neighborhoods and are actually fairly large towns.  Take one glance of Wikipedia’s Census-fortified list of North Carolina municipalities and you may notice a few names you thought were just holes in the wall that became classy Charlotte and Raleigh suburbs overnight. You may also notice that there are two cities you may have not heard of, but encompass a 1.1 million person metro area of its own (Points to self and map of the Triad region).

But enough of this kind of snark. Let me get to the real shade. Urban is not a race of people. Suburb is not a race of people. Rural is not a race of people. Say it as many times as you need to. Then, if you write articles like this that either by accident or lack of inclusiveness, imply that only one race of person moves to and from the suburbs, don’t be surprised if they get interpreted as attempts to be nice about labeling races, instead of true analyses of migration patterns.

Whew. That was a nice run-on sentence wasn’t it? Do come back tomorrow and learn how we can better label the metro areas we live in. In the meantime, if you want to learn what we are doing here in the many metro areas of North Carolina, click on the pretty shiny ad below.

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About Kristen Jeffers

I'm Kristen. Almost five years ago, I got tired of not seeing black women as nerded out about trains, better streets, riding bikes, walking not just out of necessity, tall buildings, old buildings and honestly a lot of other things. I was in grad school for community and economic development (ok, it’s actually an MPA), and I wanted to make sure people knew I existed and that I could help them do this thing called placemaking better. Five years later, I’m still doing that, although not from my hometown of Greensboro, NC, but from Kansas City, MO. I spend most of my time in Kansas City promoting better biking and walking infrastructure metro-wide with BikeWalk KC and the Kansas City B-cycle. But I also wrote a book A Black Urbanist (you can grab that over on the right) and sometimes I give speeches and help other communities tell their stories at design charrettes and public meetings. I’ve also written or appeared in all of the major “urbanist” publications, either as a subject or as a writer, as well as most of my hometown papers as subject or writer as well.