Hello! I'm de-lurking here because I'm doing some research on multifamily housing and know of a relevant study from the Spring 2010 issue of the Journal of Architectural and Planning Research written by Nico Larco, titled "Suburbia Shifted: Overlooking Trends and Opportunities in Suburban Multifamily Housing". It challenges some general assumptions about suburban multifamily housing, examining primarily American Housing Survey data on suburbs from 1997-2005. I'm not an expert (yet), but I can serve as messenger.
Here are some excerpts, with the main conclusion in bold:
"The single most reported criteria given by suburban multifamily residents for moving to their current neighborhood was convenience to jobs, with almost one-third of all recent movers citing this reason." (This was compared to 13% of suburban detached single-family residents.)
"The transportation behavior of suburban multifamily housing residents is markedly different than those of single-family housing residents. The modal split of multifamily residents points to a much higher rate of non-private automobile use: 6.6% of multifamily versus 1.5% of single-family home residents used public transportation as their primary means of travel to work. This percentage of public-transit use by suburban multifamily residents approaches the percentage of public transit use typically seen in urban areas (9.4%). In addition. 3.5% of multifamily versus 1.1% of single-family residents either biked or walked to work. Of those driving to work, 15.2% of multifamily residents drove with others while only 7.3% of single-family residents did so. Also, the median distance traveled to work was 17% lower for multifamily households (10 miles) than single-family households (12 miles)."
"A majority (55.1%) of multifamily households have only one car, and 24.5% of the households have no car at all. In addition, 48% of multifamily units reported having businesses or institutions within half a block, and 69.1% reported having a neighborhood store within one mile. This is in contrast to single-family housing, where 14.7% have businesses or institutions within half a block, and 54.7% have a neighborhood store within one mile. This reinforces the observation that many suburban multifamily developments are zoned around commercial areas."
"While multifamily suburban development is rarely created under the banner of smart growth or promoted by environmentally and socially progressive planners or designers, it contains many of the qualities and benefits of'smart-growth development. Suburban multifamily housing is dense, has mixed-use adjacencies, and houses a population showing an inclination to use non-auto-oriented transportation. These qualities need to be acknowledged so that planners, policymakers, and designers can shape policy and development to build upon the existing benefits of this housing type."
Also, more about the source:
"Nico Larco is an assistant professor in the Department of Architecture at the University of Oregon, where he is a co-director of the Sustainable Cities Initiative. His research is focused on various aspects of the design and development of sustainable suburbs."
I would say that although it's not the same as urban multifamily housing, neither is it merely a more headache-inducing concentration of other suburban housing types. The demographics, activities, behaviors, and proximity to non-residential spaces are different and more intermediary between what we think of as suburban and urban. Still, wouldn't it be nice to see this level of growth downtown!