JUST as Cody Butler and Joey Trombetta were searching for a spot to open a second branch of their Austin-based fitness boutique, Heat Bootcamp, they began losing business. Their clients weren’t trading their kettlebells and TRX bands for some other form of corporal torture; they were leaving town. “Every few months someone would come up to us and say ‘Love you guys, but we need more space and can’t afford it in Austin so we’re moving to the suburbs in Hays County’,” Mr Trombetta recalls. The buff business partners decided to follow their customers. After outfitting an expansive space formerly occupied by a grocery chain with rubber floors, mirrors, and red and blue mood lights befitting a nightclub, Heat Bootcamp opened up in San Marcos, the quaint seat of Hays County.
The county, where builders have transformed farmland into gleaming new subdivisions with slogans like “Where Austin goes to grow”, expanded by 5% between July 2016 and July 2017. It is an extreme example of a wider trend sweeping America: the resurgence of the suburb. The Great Recession, combined with a mortgage crisis, hindered mobility and curtailed home-buying, dragging down the growth of the suburbs. At the same time, urban cores began to grow more quickly than they had before, inspiring questions about the future of America’s development. Academics began theorising that perhaps the “back to the city” movement would endure, driven by millennials who cared less about white picket fences than about being within strolling distance of cafés hawking cold brew and avocado toast.