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What is a Commuter Town?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 17, 2024

Commuter towns, also called exurbs or bedroom communities, are a phenomenon of the development of high-speed highways, extensive public transportation systems, urban decay, high population rates in cities, and various other factors. They are in essence, the expression of desire for people to live in a place different from that in which they work, which is often motivated by the desire to live in areas with less crime, better school districts, and larger homes at cheaper prices. They are often built at some distance, sometimes over 100 miles away from a central workplace, often a city, that most residents commute to and from.

Commuter towns may start as an area on the fringe of a suburb, usually in rural areas. A single housing project, with maybe as few as 100 homes, could define what is called an exurb. Because housing in the area is still minimal, the exurb may not really be a “town” as such, and may have minimal access to various commercial businesses like grocery stores, doctor’s offices and the like, as well as only a small number of public schools.

If the exurb begins to grow, more housing developments are built, and the exurb evolves into a town with public resources like police departments, schools, and various commercial enterprises. The space available tends to allow for much larger homes to be built than can exist in crowded urban or heavily developed suburban environments. Such homes, which are sometimes dubbed “Mcmansions,” may be preferred by some people to housing available in urban areas, and may still be less expensive than that which could be purchased or rented in urban areas.

In order for a commuter town to survive, grow and prosper, quick access to high-speed freeways or public transportation like high-speed trains is required. Commuter towns may spring up along relatively rural areas adjacent to a highway to provide less expensive housing. As commuter towns grow, they may also become too big, too expensive, or exhibit higher crime levels. When this occurs, towns farther away from a central work location, but still with quick access to a highway or freeway, may be built.

The commuter town can quickly become less populous if the major employers in an urban area undergo recessions. This proved the case with numerous employees of the dot com industry in California’s Silicon Valley. As Silicon Valley has regrouped and reestablished itself, commuter towns have again become more populous, though housing values have fallen.

Further, when commuter towns grow, there are several problems. With many of the homes occupied by families, children can easily become latch key kids, or remain in after school day care. Commuting can become expensive, contributes to pollution when people make lengthy commutes in cars alone. A one-way commute that takes several hours can turn an eight-hour workday into a twelve-hour workday. Highways become more congested with commuters leading to more frequent need for highway repair, modification, and longer commutes as traffic increases.

Some people seek employment in fairly large commuter towns, but pay is often not commensurate with living expenses. Companies in demand, such as Big Box stores, tend not to pay enough for people to live in a commuter town, unless they have other sources of income, like the income of a commuting spouse or partner. More consumption of resources leads to higher taxes, to support utilities, law enforcement, hospitals, and community growth, raising cost of living, and making it hard for people to conceptualize escaping the commute lifestyle.

On the other hand, the commuter town may still be preferable to city living, especially when neighborhoods have good schools, large homes and low crime rates. People may feel safer living in commuter towns, and are willing to sacrifice the extra hours in their day it takes to commute. This is frequently viewed as a trade up in quality of living, that to many is worth the price of an everyday commute to work.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By Drentel — On Mar 20, 2014

While commuter towns are often times populated by people who move to the cities for work and decide they want to live in a smaller community, these towns are sometimes towns that have lost their main economic provider. I have seen many textile communities turn into commuter towns because people who live in the towns had to commute to larger places to find work after the textile mills closed.

By Sporkasia — On Mar 19, 2014

I enjoy living in the country. I like open land, trees, fields of corn and beans. However, I have for the most part held work positions that have required me to live in cities. Whenever possible, I have lived in the suburbs or commuter towns because that's what I prefer.

In some locations, living 100 miles from the city where I worked was not an inconvenience because I could catch a train and be to work in a short time. Plus I could relax or work on the train, things I could not do when I was driving to work. In other locations where public transportation was less convenient, my commute was often a bit stressful and time consuming.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a America Explained contributor, Tricia...
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