What is a bedroom community?

There’s no better place to come home to at the end of the day than your bedroom. And for a lot of people across the country, there’s no better place to come home to than a bedroom community. Keep reading to find out why bedroom communities—also known as commuter towns—are a palatable option for several unique working situations.

What is a bedroom community?

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A bedroom community is a town where most people work elsewhere. Also known as a commuter town, an exurb (short for extra-urban), a bedroom suburb, and even—though less commonly—a “dormitory town,” bedroom communities are usually located right outside a more populated area. 

A hallmark of all bedroom communities is that they don’t have very much industry to support workers. A bedroom community typically includes homes, schools, and a few commercial and retail options. That’s about it. 

While this isn’t always the case, bedroom communities typically arise out of a need for more affordable housing for workers living in a corresponding town or city. Take San Francisco, for instance, which has more affordable options in East Bay areas such as Fremont, Alameda, and Emeryville.

How is a bedroom community different than a suburb?

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Sometimes, these two terms are interchangeable, but there are subtle differences.

Think of a “bedroom community” as a place’s function: Its main purpose is to house people to live (and sleep!) before they go to work in a different location. Just as a “college town” functions mostly to accommodate college students and a “resort town” functions mostly to cater to seasonal visitors, the term “bedroom community” comes from the function it implies. 

While people often commute to larger cities from the suburbs they work in, suburbs often don’t have a delineating space between the main hub and the larger area; it’s a bit of an urban sprawl. Bedroom communities, on the other hand, are usually a clear distance from a city with not much else in between.

Another hallmark of bedroom communities vs. suburbs is size. Whereas suburbs are typically a natural sprawl from a larger metropolis—think Los Angeles or Chicago—bedroom communities often spring up to accommodate people working in much smaller places. 

Take Jackson, Wyoming, for example. It’s a popular resort town where people visit largely during the summertime to hike and camp or during the wintertime to ski. The town is largely comprised of hotels and luxury condos.

So, where do the people who work in the booming service industry of Jackson Hole live? Their wages can’t cover the high-price real estate of the area, so many people live in nearby bedroom communities. There’s Victor, Idaho, for example, which sits about 25 miles northwest of Jackson. What’s in between Jackson and Victor? Absolutely nothing. (Although, it’s a fantastically beautiful drive through the forest and mountains. I’ve been!) 

Similarly, down south in Savannah, Georgia, the hospitality industry thrives, but homes downtown are pricey and hard to come by. Many people in the area work in Savannah yet live about 15 miles northwest in Pooler, Georgia. Near New York City, the bedroom community of Highlands, New Jersey serves the same purpose: Most people come into the city to work and head back to Highlands each night.

What are the pros of living in a bedroom community?

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If you work in an area where real estate can be prohibitively expensive—such as Jackson, Savannah, or New York City, all mentioned above—you’ll be able to find more palatable prices and a lot more square footage in a nearby bedroom community.

Bedroom communities are also extremely family-friendly. A resort town might not have any schools, for example, while its corresponding bedroom community could cater to families with school-age children. What’s more, public schools in a bedroom community tend to be on par or even better than private schools in the corresponding city or town.

Bedroom communities offer all the conveniences residents need, such as grocery stores and other retail, without the congestion of a larger city. Bedroom communities boast a small-town feel with family-friendly subdivisions: Think modest to large single-family homes with sprawling, manicured front lawns (there might be a homeowner’s association fee) and cul-de-sacs.

What are the cons?

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It’s perhaps fitting that a bedroom community might feel a little sleepy. Since these are largely created to support workers commuting elsewhere, most bedroom communities don’t have much in the way of dining, entertainment, boutique shopping, museums, or other cultural offerings. 

On the flip side, all the benefits of a small town you might like—such as mom-and-pop retail offerings, for example—aren’t as readily available to folks since they’re commuting every day for work. While people in a place like New Jersey can take public transportation into New York, people in other places are often spending hours in the car every single day, stuck in traffic during rush hour.

Lastly, sometimes bedroom communities lack the tight-knit feel of more established suburbs or neighborhoods within larger cities due to the transient nature of people coming in and out on a daily basis. Though it goes without saying, every person is different, but the combination of these factors tends to make bedroom communities less desirable for people seeking vibrant nightlife or a more active social environment.

What are some more examples of bedroom communities?

Bedroom communities can be found all over the world, usually in more rural or semi-rural areas. Some additional notable bedroom communities in the United States:

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