New real estate term "surban" a sign of the times

Reed's Crossing, a new development in Hillsboro, will be more walkable and bikeable than previous suburban projects. Caleb Diehl Reed's Crossing, a new development in Hillsboro, will be more walkable and bikeable than previous suburban projects.

Developers are betting that millennials are demanding a new type of neighborhood. 


A strange word has entered the real estate vocabulary: “surban.”

This awkward portmanteau represents a fundamental shift in where people want to live and work. In particular, where millennials want to live and work.

Millennials, who for too long have been dismissed as golf-shunning, plastic straw-killing egotists, are finally starting to accrue power and wealth. As 30% of wealth transfers to their hands over the next few years, marketers must cater to their tastes. And one of the things they need to know is, where do these people want to live?

It’s well-known that people in their 20s and early 30s today are gravitating to cities. What remains an open question is whether they’ll stay. When millennials start to raise families and get old, will they stay in the city or retire to the suburbs? This is one of the liveliest debates in urban planning today.



Real-estate developers think they have an answer, a sort of compromise between city amenities and suburban calm. They’re calling it “surban.”

How did we get to “surban?” First, the U.S. had urban development. Then the cities grew too noisy, diseased and dangerous for affluent white people, so they fled to the suburbs, trapping minorities behind them with redlining and discriminatory housing policies.

But then, the affluent white people realized the suburbs sucked in different ways from the old city. They felt disconnected and homogenized, so they fled back, gentrifying low-income and minority neighborhoods.

For businesses, this has played out as a migration of emerging talent from the suburbs to downtown. The trend has become readily apparent in Portland’s tech scene. Nearly every startup that’s made headlines in the past few years has landed in the central city, not in the historic tech headquarters of Hillsboro or Beaverton. Intel, Salesforce and other suburban tech outposts are struggling to win back the talent they’ve lost to the big city.

Could “surban” be the answer to their talent woes? We’ll see. They could start with a catchier name.

We’ll have more on how the “surban’ ideal is shaping new Portland Metro Area developments in the upcoming February issue of Oregon Business magazine.


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Caleb Diehl

Caleb Diehl is a reporter at Oregon Business

1 comment

  • Bryan Atkinson, Real Estate Agent
    Bryan Atkinson, Real Estate Agent Monday, 28 January 2019 10:21 Comment Link

    The Argay Terrace and Cherry Park neighborhoods of East Portland may be the type of "surban" housing some are looking for. There are also contemporary suburban style subdivisions far north in N and NE Portland, such as off Marine Drive in the East Columbia neighborhood few know about.

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