The Ever-Expanding Texas ‘Burbs


Dreamed I drove home to Houston
On a highway that was underground
There was no light that we could see
As we listened to the sound of the engine failing

I feel like I’ve been living in
A city with no children in it
A garden left for ruin by a billionaire inside of a private prison

-“City of No Children,” The Suburbs, Arcade Fire


The new album from Arcade Fire is the best musical treatment of life in the ‘burbs to come along in a long time. Singer Win Butler grew up in Houston (The Woodlands, specifically) and he nails the feel of the city’s muggy sprawl.

“A lot of times, people are embarrassed about being from the suburbs,” Butler told the Montreal Gazette. “I wanted to write about an experience and not play make-believe. … I wanted to capture the experience of growing up, before the details get lost and it starts to get hazy.”

The themes are not new – the quiet desperation circulating among strip malls and tract homes; the emptiness of material overabundance; the isolation induced by cars – but Butler adds layers of complexity. He teases the idea that in our youth we feel the need to escape but as we age a strange, uncomfortable urge to return settles in.

If I could have it back
All the time that we wasted
I’d only waste it again
If I could have it back
You know I’d love to waste it again
Waste it again and again and again

I’ve got to ask
Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling again
Sometimes I can’t believe it
I’m moving past the feeling again
Sometimes I can’t believe it…


I was listening to The Suburbs as I browsed stories about Texas’ tremendous population growth.

While suburban growth is slowing in other parts of the country due to the recession and the collapse of the housing market, there are no signs of a slowdown in Texas. Last year, four of the top 10 fastest-growing cities in the nation were Texas suburbs: Frisco, McKinney, Round Rock and Lewisville. By 2060, the state population is expected to nearly double, from 25 million to 46 million. Most of that growth will be in suburban and urban areas east of I-35.

What will this look like?

The World Resources Institute’s “Southern Forests for the Future” project has put together some beautiful interactive maps that “reveal trends and changes in southern forests.” WRI was kind enough to send me an animated version of suburbanization in Texas from 1940 to 2030. Take a look. (The map is easiest to read if viewed in fullscreen mode.)