Dwelling on the ‘burbs

For some city-dwellers, it’s an article of faith that the suburbs are a cultural wasteland. If you want to hear a concert or see a play, they believe, you’ve got to come to the big city. Of course, this formulation is partly a matter of self-image: The anti-suburbanists see themselves as aesthetes who endure the wear and tear of city life (and forgo the creature comforts of the ‘burbs) so they can surround themselves with high culture. And they enjoy looking down on suburbanites as benighted souls who willingly live without such cultural stimulation.

Whatever truth that cliche might once have had, it’s been overtaken by events. In an item in The Wall Street Journal’s online OpinionJournal section this week, demographer Joel Kotkin sums up a "profound shift in the cultural geography of America" as prosperous suburban areas open performing-arts centers and other sorts of cultural infrastructure. "At a time when many cities are basing their long-term hope on exploiting their traditional dominance in arts-related industries, the suburbs are beginning to provide some serious competition for both patrons and donors." (Corporate sponsors, take note!) Kotkin notes that this trend "has its roots in basic demography and economic trends." Simply put, more people with more money have moved to the burbs, and they offer an audience base for symphony orchestras, theater companies and the like. One telling indicator of the trend: In the Chicago metro area, "there are now more arts-related jobs in the suburbs than in Chicago."

Facts like that one are unlikely to shake the orthodoxies of hard-core ‘burb-haters, but they should influence the calculations of marketers who wish to connect with suburbanites.

—Posted by Mark Dolliver