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Photo: Nicola Vigilanti/Gamma-Rapho/Getty

For years, an unwavering certitude of industry, think tanks, demographers, policy-makers and city planners everywhere has been that humanity is moving to the city: We just needed to figure out how to house, employ and feed everyone in a condensed space.

Yes, but: As more and more millennials marry and have children, that presumption is coming under scrutiny.

What's happening: The forecast of global massive urbanization was important since it suggested that vast swaths of countryside would empty out, and we would adopt entirely new lifestyles.

  • But, in a mea culpa at Brookings, William Frey, a demographer, said that, based on new census data, he has changed his mind on what he thought was a mass urbanization trend. He still thinks that cities will attract "young people — especially well-off, affluent millennials and post-millennials."
  • "But this won't be most cities," he tells Axios. "And, for this younger generation, what I see is more clustered developments within the suburbs, and smaller metros, greater reliance on public transportation and perhaps ride-hailing and self-driving cars."

What happened: Frey said it might be "just a 'return to normal' of the suburbanization we saw prior to the Great Recession." But Karen Harris, managing director at Bain Macro Trends, tells Axios that, for one thing, it's probably time for millennials — given their stage in life — to start moving out to the 'burbs with their kids.

Distance has changed: Harris also says that very few experts took note of the changed economics of space.

  • It's cheaper to move information from place to place
  • Amazon's model of cheap and fast delivery of goods has shortened perceived distances.
  • Self-driving cars will also make people more likely to perceive places as closer together, since they won't have to become aggravated driving there.

In terms of implications, according to Harris:

  • Businesses need to adjust: They may have to build more locations, perhaps smaller and at greater distances. But that doesn't necessarily mean astronomical costs, as among the new ways to deliver stuff will be inexpensive drones.
  • Upping their game: Brick and mortar shops will have to "re-focus their mission on providing amazing customer experiences."
  • Big suburbs: By 2025, the population of exurbs may exceed those in urban centers for the first time. Developers will have to envision these exurbs as semi-self-contained communities not reliant on nearby cities.

Get more stories like this by signing up for our twice-weekly robotics, AI and labor economics newsletter, Future. 

Go deeper

Senate Armed Services chair dismisses Trump threat to veto defense bill

Sen. Jim Inhofe. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday that he plans to move ahead with a crucial defense-spending bill without provisions that would eliminate tech industry protections, defying a veto threat from President Trump.

Why it matters: Inhofe's public rebuke signals that the Senate could have enough Republican backing to override a potential veto from Trump, who has demanded that the $740 billion National Defense Authorization Act repeal Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act.

Scoop: Uber in talks to sell air taxi business to Joby

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Uber is in advanced talks to sell its Uber Elevate unit to Joby Aviation, Axios has learned from multiple sources. A deal could be announced later this month.

Between the lines: Uber Elevate was formed to develop a network of self-driving air taxis, but to date has been most notable for its annual conference devoted to the nascent industry.

Setting the Biden-era cybersecurity agenda

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

The Biden administration will face a wide array of cybersecurity challenges but can take meaningful action in at least five key areas, concludes a new report by the Aspen Cybersecurity Group.

Why it matters: Cybersecurity policy is a rare refuge from Washington's hyperpartisan dysfunction, as shown by the recent work of the bipartisan Cyberspace Solarium Commission. President-elect Joe Biden should have a real opportunity to make progress on shoring up the nation's cybersecurity and cyber capabilities without bumping up against a likely Republican-controlled Senate.