In Europe, suburban populations grew on average 54% more than urban populations between 1961 and 2011, with people looking to enjoy the relative space and comfort of single-family homes. Yet, when it comes to unhealthy buildings, these suburbs are in danger of being overlooked.

Urbanisation: a global phenomenon

Cities around the world continue to grow. In 2016, an estimated 55% of the world’s population lived in urban settlements. By 2050, more than twothirds of the world’s population will be living in cities¹.

Europe already exceeds these projections. 73% of EU inhabitants already lived in cities, towns and suburbs in 2014, with that number expected to rise to 80% by 2050².

People move to cities for many different reasons, but it is primarily for better economic opportunities, educational options and cultural activities. However, city living inevitably involves some compromises, especially when it comes to living space, cost, pollution and noise.

Suburbanisation: a European dream

In Europe, many urban residents still aspire to the ideal of having a house and a garden – the advantages of city life with a sense of space, clean air and nature. From 1961 to 2011, Europe’s suburban population increased by 54% more than its urban population, while its rural population actually declined. There are variations in this trend, with a few countries, especially in Central and Eastern Europe (CEE), still seeing higher levels of urban growth.

The trend towards suburbanisation is principally due to people’s demand for a certain quality of life, combined with the economics of housing and other lifestyle factors: 

  • Space: 33% more people report shortage of space in urban vs suburban areas, and lack of space is a major cause of dissatisfaction with a person’s dwelling.
  • Cost: the cost of housing per square metre is on average 42% higher in urban than in suburban areas.
  • Pollution: 48% more people report having problems related to outdoor pollution in urban areas as compared with suburban areas.
  • Noise: 39% more people report having problems related to noise in urban areas as compared with suburban areas.
 There are, of course, trade-offs to be made. For example, access to public transport is considerably easier in urban areas than in suburban areas. But they seem to be trade-offs people are willing to make.

The makeup of European cities: single vs. multi-family homes

Also interesting to note is the distribution of single-family homes (SFHs) and multi-family homes (MFHs). In 2012, urban areas were made up of 63% MFHs and 37% SFHs. In suburban areas the opposite was true, with only 38% MFHs, but 62% SFHs.

Urbanisation is a hot topic. But as growth in suburban areas outpaces urban growth in most European countries, it is vital that we focus on the needs and opportunities presented by these growing communities.

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