Are you ready for a fun driving trip?
Pretend that you are sitting in your car, doing so in the midst of a hectic downtown city. Please go ahead and start the engine of the vehicle.
Next, begin to drive out of the city.
Perhaps doing so brings a happy smile to your face.
You’ll want to drive until you just get past the boundaries of the city proper. The odds are that you’ll then enter into the vaunted suburbs. We all know what suburbs are. Usually, suburbs have homes that are larger than the ones typically found within the city. People enjoy a bit of a backyard and are likely to live near an expansive park or shimmering school grounds. Traffic isn’t as congested in comparison to the hustle and bustle of the city vehicular snarl. And so on.
Continue driving on this indomitable outbound quest and seek to reach the boundaries of the suburb.
Where are you now?
Most people would tend to assume that beyond the suburbs are those somewhat barren or sparsely populated rural areas. Lots of farms. Very few homes. Not many people. Agriculture as far as the eye can see, or perhaps herds of grazing cattle. Acres and acres of open land. That’s what you’d likely expect to see once you’ve stretched beyond the outer skirts of the suburbs.
But wait for a second, you are neglecting to include a zonal facet that sits between the end of the suburbs and the beginning of the rural areas.
I’d dare say many people have no idea that such a declarative zone exists. This seemingly unrecognized zone has a catchy name.
Yes, the area that essentially resides in the buffer between the outer edge of the suburbs and the initial edge of a rural area is coined as the exurbs.
Think of this whole contrivance as a series of concentric circles. Assume that the innermost core is the city. Surrounding the city is the zone of the suburbs. Surrounding the suburbs is the zone of the exurbs. Surrounding the exurbs is the zone of the rural areas. To clarify, that’s not a perfectly precise way to depict things, but it is evocative of the general gist. You’ll have to discuss further the matter with specialists such as expert geographers to get further into the weeds, as it were.
The people that live in the exurbs are sometimes referred to as exurbanites.
That’s an apparent tip of the hat to similarly sounding suburbanites living in suburban areas. Everyone gets a label, so it seems. I’m not sure that people are enamored of those labels and you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone exclaiming to the rooftops that they are a suburbanite and nor the same for those that are technically considered exurbanites.
Let’s just stick with referring to this patch of land as the exurbs and merely acknowledge that people do live there.
If you’ve not heard or seen the word “exurbs” before, you probably assume it’s one of those newfangled technoid catchphrases that somebody posted on the latest social media and now the darned thing is gaining a foothold. Actually, a book published in the 1950s is considered the origination point for the exurb moniker, written by Auguste Spectorsky and entitled The Exurbanites (well, I promised not to use that term again herein, but my excuse in this instance is that I’m merely providing the title of the book).
Generally, the notion of an exurb is that it is akin to adding an extra-urban layer to the multi-layer cake of land use that I’ve described as a series of concentric circles. You are certainly welcome to question whether such a layer is worthy of being explicitly called out. Some prefer to ignore the exurb and just emphasize that when you exit the suburbs you have then entered into rural lands.
Others stridently contend that acknowledging the existence of exurbs is assuredly valuable.
Exurbs are a bit of an odd beast. An exurb is similar to a suburb but characterized as even more sparse and less densely packed than a suburb would conventionally be. An exurb is also nearly akin to a rural area, but not quite as sparse and empty as the usual norms for a rural area. You can envision that residential life is the dominant foundation in an exurb. Business establishments and commerce are altogether secondary and scant.
Quantitative metrics such as population density can aid in being more definitive about the differences between an exurb and its neighboring suburbs and rural areas. An exurb tends to have a lower population density than a suburb, meaning that people are more scattered out. Meanwhile, an exurb tends to have a higher population density than a rural area. It is all a relative difference.
We can debate until the cows come home as to whether or not the exurbs are a real thing. For sake of discussion, assume that exurbs do exist.
There is a catch. An exurb doesn’t always necessarily exist, such that a given locale might go directly from the suburbs and enter directly into rural lands (i.e., no exurb has sprung up in between those two boundaries). On the other hand, there might be a sliver of land that we could reasonably construe as being an exurb, or possibly a rather sizable area that almost unarguably constitutes an exurb.
As they say, your mileage may vary.
Why all this chatter about something that seems rather unfamiliar and perhaps esoteric?
Because people are moving to the exurbs.
Recent news reports about real estate and where communities are flourishing have exhorted that the exurbs are finally starting to see the light of day and becoming highly visible to those that previously had never heard of such outlying lands. Headlines tout the coming of the exurbs. Their time has arrived. But this is tempered at times by somewhat awkward or discourteous phrasing that makes exurbs seem somewhat oddball. Language such as referring to the exurbs as being on the fringe or having a far-flung positioning are apt to cloud what otherwise ought to be a simple and unsmeared piece of turf.
Despite any disquieting remarks, people that only once knew about suburbs are increasingly discovering the joys of moving into the exurbs. This has been sparked and then hastened as a result of the pandemic. City dwellers sought to get out of the cities. They often shifted into the suburbs. People living in the suburbs suddenly found themselves getting crowded, something they did not desire, and so they opted to shift into the exurbs.
This makes indubitable sense.
The other path was to go all the way into rural lands, but this was an outsized approach by many that led to a bit of shock when no longer immersed in the conventional comforts of living in modern cities or contemporary suburbs. You might last for a little while in a rural area, similar to when taking a short vacation and doing so temporarily. Eventually, the quietness and lack of conventional everyday activities were enough to convince those non-rural types to scoot back into an exurb or a suburb. We’ll have to wait and see how many opt to go back into the cities, now that things are opening up again.
The recent revelation that remote work is a viable way of conducting business has stoked further the viability of living in the exurbs. As long as you can get high-speed Internet access, working from an exurb is no different than working from a suburb or anyplace else. They say that no one knows whether you are a dog while on the Internet (a famous and nearly outdated joke), and similarly no one knows or needs to know where you are located when you are getting work done remotely.
So-called knowledge workers are predicted to shift in droves from the cities or suburbs and relocate into the exurbs. The cost to buy a home there is a lot less and enables especially newbie career goers to afford a home of their own. The cost of living is less. All told the savings of your hard-earned dollars and cents add up to an alluring appeal.
There is one thing though that you’ll need, which maybe you already have or maybe not.
When living in a fast-paced city, you can oftentimes get around via a subway system, a bus system, or some form of public transit. Many city dwellers of a younger bent seem to be eschewing the ownership and use of a car. They would rather walk, ride a bike, or use the transit systems.
Those that live already in a suburban locale, probably have a car since the other transportation options aren’t particularly effective for their transit needs. Things are widely spread out. You can only ride your bike so far and will likely need to use a car at some juncture. The use of a car is somewhat sparingly undertaken. If an alternative transportation mode presents itself, the car will sit in the driveway and await just those journeys that are of necessity requiring an automobile.
You might be wondering what takes place in an exurb related to the use of a car.
Keep in mind that things are even further spread out in the exurbs. Furthermore, the availability of local mass transit tends to be even less than it was in the suburbs. In short, a car is pretty much a mandatory form of transportation.
And if you live as a family in the exurbs, the odds are that just one car won’t do. You’ll need to have two cars. This is seemingly an affordable purchase since the savings from the lowered cost of housing and the lowered cost of living can contribute towards having two cars. One of the cars might tend toward being a fancier car, while the other one might tend towards being a workhorse, such as an SUV or something that can handle the more remote roads and be used in the adjacent rural areas too.
Speaking of cars, the future of cars consists of AI-based true self-driving cars.
There isn’t a human driver involved in a true self-driving car. Keep in mind that true self-driving cars are driven via an AI driving system. There isn’t a need for a human driver at the wheel, and nor is there a provision for a human to drive the vehicle. For my extensive and ongoing coverage of Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) and especially self-driving cars, see the link here.
Here’s an intriguing question that is worth pondering: How might the advent of AI-based true self-driving cars impact the quest for being able to live in the proverbial exurbs?
I’ve previously covered the trend toward people buying vacation homes in out-of-the-way places, which will be further fueled by the emergence of self-driving cars, see the link here. There are many similarities to the somewhat analogous situation regarding the exurbs, though the exurbs are generally considered the place of your primary home and not particularly where your vacation home would reside.
I’d like to further clarify what is meant when I refer to true self-driving cars and then we can get into the details about the exurbs and the role of self-driving cars.
Understanding The Levels Of Self-Driving Cars
As a clarification, true self-driving cars are ones that the AI drives the car entirely on its own and there isn’t any human assistance during the driving task.
These driverless vehicles are considered Level 4 and Level 5 (see my explanation at this link here), while a car that requires a human driver to co-share the driving effort is usually considered at Level 2 or Level 3. The cars that co-share the driving task are described as being semi-autonomous, and typically contain a variety of automated add-on’s that are referred to as ADAS (Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems).
There is not yet a true self-driving car at Level 5, which we don’t yet even know if this will be possible to achieve, and nor how long it will take to get there.
Meanwhile, the Level 4 efforts are gradually trying to get some traction by undergoing very narrow and selective public roadway trials, though there is controversy over whether this testing should be allowed per se (we are all life-or-death guinea pigs in an experiment taking place on our highways and byways, some contend, see my coverage at this link here).
Since semi-autonomous cars require a human driver, the adoption of those types of cars won’t be markedly different than driving conventional vehicles, so there’s not much new per se to cover about them on this topic (though, as you’ll see in a moment, the points next made are generally applicable).
For semi-autonomous cars, it is important that the public needs to be forewarned about a disturbing aspect that’s been arising lately, namely that despite those human drivers that keep posting videos of themselves falling asleep at the wheel of a Level 2 or Level 3 car, we all need to avoid being misled into believing that the driver can take away their attention from the driving task while driving a semi-autonomous car.
You are the responsible party for the driving actions of the vehicle, regardless of how much automation might be tossed into a Level 2 or Level 3.
Self-Driving Cars And Exurbs
For Level 4 and Level 5 true self-driving vehicles, there won’t be a human driver involved in the driving task.
All occupants will be passengers.
The AI is doing the driving.
One aspect to immediately discuss entails the fact that the AI involved in today’s AI driving systems is not sentient. In other words, the AI is altogether a collective of computer-based programming and algorithms, and most assuredly not able to reason in the same manner that humans can.
Why this added emphasis about the AI not being sentient?
Because I want to underscore that when discussing the role of the AI driving system, I am not ascribing human qualities to the AI. Please be aware that there is an ongoing and dangerous tendency these days to anthropomorphize AI. In essence, people are assigning human-like sentience to today’s AI, despite the undeniable and inarguable fact that no such AI exists as yet.
With that clarification, you can envision that the AI driving system won’t natively somehow “know” about the facets of driving. Driving and all that it entails will need to be programmed as part of the hardware and software of the self-driving car.
Let’s dive into the myriad of aspects that come to play on this topic.
The odds are that AI self-driving cars will help to encourage and potentially accelerate a shift toward living in the exurbs.
Those that live in the exurbs are at times going to want to visit the suburbs and nearby cities. This could be to make use of the more robust resources in the suburbs and the cities. Think of large shopping malls, ornate theatres, extensive museums, and other such attractions.
In addition, even if those that live in the exurbs are working remotely, they will certainly be asked to come and visit a local office or customers on occasion. Some employers are hopeful of having their employees make at least a daily visit to the office or perhaps a couple of times per week. The logic is that this aids in keeping the employees connected to the office and feel more so as being an integral part of the company. Direct face-to-face interactions over coffee or in an office setting can be crucial to ensuring seamless teamwork.
Someone driving a car from the exurbs to the city is going to endure a long haul that is decidedly unpleasant. In the exurbs, there is hardly any traffic congestion. People living in the exurbs get used to this delightfulness. Imagine the disgust they would experience the moment they found themselves driving amidst road rage traffic and having to contend with bumper-to-bumper nuttiness.
Also, the time to get to the city would be exorbitant. As a form of commute, this would be at the outer bounds of what any sane person could reasonably tolerate. It might take an hour or two to get to the city, along with being miffed about the traffic. And then another hour or two to drive back out to your home in the exurbs. Doing this for work purposes provides some impetus. Doing this for recreation or enjoyment would turn out to be nonsensical since the angst of traveling would undercut any joy from having made the journey.
Those downsides are predicated on one key factor, a human having to drive a car.
Take the human driver out of the equation. Those living in the exurbs would make use of a self-driving car to drive them into the city or over to the nearby suburbs. The drive would be done without any hassle. The AI driving system has to cope with the crazy traffic.
Passengers inside the self-driving car would simply be whisked along and arrive at their desired destination. No need to think about what the best route might be. No need to deal with other human drivers that don’t seem to know how to properly drive. That’s entirely something the AI driving system will contend with.
Throughout the trek, passengers can idly look at the windows and enjoy the view. Or they can make use of a high-speed Internet connection available in-car and watch their favorite cat videos on their smartphones. There are also assuredly going to be LED displays inside self-driving cars, allowing passengers to watch movies on a bigger screen than available via their smartphones.
Sleeping inside a self-driving car is another possibility of how to use the time during a journey, see my elaborated discussion about this at the link here. Passengers can catch a nap or enjoy an all-out snooze, depending upon the length of time for the ride. The interior of self-driving cars will be different than conventional cars since there is no longer a need to have a driver’s seat. Various designs suggest that the seats will be swivel style to allow riders to look in any direction. You can bet too that the seats will recline to allow for resting and relaxing during a trek.
I trust you get the drift that those living in the exurbs would be able to readily take entertaining sojourns into the cities and suburbs by making use of self-driving cars. You have your own private space during your travel and can do whatever best suits your time during the trip. No-fuss, no muss.
I’ve even emphasized that the use of self-driving cars will impact our perception of time and distance, in a manner akin to that which occurred during the transition from predominantly horsedrawn travel to automobiles (see my analysis at this link here).
Overall, self-driving cars will allow those that choose to live in the exurbs to feel as though they aren’t living on some remote planet. They will be able to relish the less chaotic lifestyle of residing in an exurb, and yet still be able to tap into utilizing the cities and suburbs by the mere act of having a self-driving car perform the exasperating driving chore for them.
There are more twists and turns to be considered.
Those living in the exurbs might not need to own a car, or at least not own two cars.
They could use self-driving cars on ridesharing or ride-hailing basis for most of their traveling. Only when they have some specific reason to not use a self-driving car, perhaps going on a vacation trip and wanting to go off-road, they will otherwise nearly always use a self-driving car to get around.
The hope is that self-driving cars will be a lot less expensive to use than conventional cars. This makes sense since the labor required to drive a car is taken out of the cost aspects. In addition, self-driving cars will be available 24×7. No need to have to try and find a human driver willing to provide lifts at late hours. The AI driving system and the self-driving car are always ready to roll (excluding when the autonomous vehicle is refueling, undergoing maintenance, and the like).
As with anything in the real world, there are some potential hiccups.
A big question yet to be figured out is whether self-driving cars will be made available in those out-of-the-way places. If a fleet operator of self-driving cars wants to maximize the usage of autonomous vehicles, they would presumably keep the fleet in a locale that has a lot of car traveling demand. This is assumed to be principally in cities.
Will there be sufficient need or demand for the use of self-driving cars to warrant having them located in the exurbs?
It is difficult to say.
Each circumstance will dictate what the ROI (return on investment) is going to look like. If a particular exurb is extensively using self-driving cars to get around town, plus using self-driving cars for those longer trips out-of-town, there is a substantive odds that having self-driving cars in that exurb would be highly profitable. On the other hand, if people in that exurb rarely used self-driving cars and insisted on using their own human-driven cars, there might not be sufficient revenue to be gained by having a fleet set up shop there.
The convenience and ease of using self-driving cars, along with the anticipated safety by not having any drunk driving or distracted driving by an AI driving system versus human drivers could be a huge appeal. An exurb could be a tremendous money-maker for a savvy fleet operator and proffer a loyal base of riders.
You could say that self-driving cars will help grease the skids toward an exodus to the exurbs.
Time to start looking toward buying a comfortable home in a tranquil exurb of your choosing. And then keep an eye open for those handy dandy self-driving cars to provide you with your exurb driving needs.