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Cost of moving: Gas prices kill exurban expansion

High gas prices are one big reason people aren't moving to "exurbs."

High gas prices are one big reason people aren't moving to "exurbs."

When American soldiers returned home from World War II, they helped fuel an explosion of suburban living. Men and their families were packing up and moving to the outskirts of cities in record numbers, and the population in areas surrounding Chicago, Los Angeles and New York surged.

As suburban expansion continued, it gave rise to the "exurb," an area even further on the edge of a metropolitan area. But comparatively low-cost housing and proximity to other, more populated areas kept the exurbs growing - until recently. Fewer Americans have been moving to these locations in recent years, and there's one big reason why: gas prices.

Some areas of the country that once saw boom times are now going bust as rising gas prices make the cost of commuting almost too much to bear. Kendall County, Illinois, was the fastest growing area of the country between 2000 and 2010, with the population more than doubling over that time, according to an Associated Press analysis of recent U.S. Census Bureau data. Toward the end of the decade, however, the story changed. With roughly 50 miles between Kendall County and Chicago and gas prices rising, fewer people saw the area as an attractive option. Population growth slowed to 1 percent by 2011. The trend is much the same in the rest of the country, where average exurban growth hovers at 0.9 percent.

As of early April 2012, the national average price for a gallon of regular gasoline was $3.92, according to AAA. The University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute recently announced the average U.S. automobile gets 23.7 miles to the gallon. With a 100-mile round trip from Kendall County to Chicago, the average commuter would spend $16.54 per day on gasoline. That's roughly $82 per week, $370 per month, or $4,300 per year.

"The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us," Yale University economist Robert Shiller told AP. "With the bursting of the [housing] bubble, we may be discovering the pleasures of the city and the advantages of renting, investing our money not in a single house but in a diversified portfolio."

So where is everybody going once the moving company has come and picked up all the stuff from their exurban ex-homes? By some accounts, they're headed to Washington, D.C. The Huffington Post reports the nation's capital is the top moving destination in the country.