The continued rise of the American suburbs

A short piece in the New York Times discusses the continued trend toward the suburbs:

Still, for all the buzzy talk of knowledge industry synergy and urban appeal, census figures show that UBS’s return would be bucking the demographic trends rather than reflecting them and that the suburbs, however unloved by tastemakers and academics, remain where the growth is.

Joel Kotkin , a writer who specializes in demographic issues, says that the 2010 census figures show that during the past decade just 8.6 percent of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than a million people took place in city cores. The rest took place in the suburbs, which are home to more than 6 in 10 Americans.

The 8.6 percent is even lower than in the 1990s when the figure was 15.1 percent. New York City did better than the national average, getting 29 percent of the growth in the metropolitan area, but that was down from 46 percent in the 1990s. Of the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million residents, only three — Boston, Providence, and Oklahoma City — saw their core cities grow faster than their suburbs. And the growth is hardly the mono-dimensional suburbia of hoary stereotype.

In 1970 nearly 95 percent of suburbanites were white, Mr. Kotkin writes. Now minorities constitute over 27 percent of the nation’s suburbanites.

Several questions could be raised:

1. Kotkin’s figures show the rise of suburbs. Others have suggested Kotkin’s figures disguise the real divide between inner-ring and outer-ring suburbs. These inner-ring areas are suburban but also are more city like with higher densities and city issues (infrastructure, crime, aging housing, etc.).

2. Sociologist Herbert Gans, author of the classic The Levittowners, is cited saying that people are still moving to the suburbs because they are cheaper. This seems a bit simplistic: some suburban homes may be cheaper, particularly on the edge of suburban development, but homeowners end up paying more in transportation costs, commuting, and governmental bodies subsidize sprawl by paying for highways (and giving less to mass transit). The real question is what would happen if the costs of urban and suburban living were similar and people knew this – would they still choose the suburbs? I think they would, particularly for cultural reasons such as chasing the American Dream and looking for safe, well-educated neighborhoods for their kids.

3. The article cites data that says Millennials are more interested in living in the suburbs than their parents. This may be the case though what exactly these suburbs look like is unclear: exurbs full of McMansions or denser, walkable suburban communities?

One thought on “The continued rise of the American suburbs

  1. Pingback: The new suburban crisis is… | Legally Sociable

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