Wednesday, May 20, 2009


As a fervent admirer of the suburban lifestyle and its attendant amenities, I am always interested in new slants on the ancient way of living outside of the center city cores, and this new article from New Geography is surely that.

An excerpt.

“Much has been written about how suburbs have taken people away from the city and that now suburbanites need to return back to where they came. But in reality most suburbs of large cities have grown not from the migration of local city-dwellers but from migration from small towns and the countryside.

“It is true that suburban areas have been growing strongly, while core cities have tended to grow much more slowly or even to decline. The predominance of suburban growth is not just an American phenomenon, but is fairly universal in the high income world).

“This is true in both auto-oriented and transit oriented environments. Suburbs have accounted for more than 90 percent of growth in Japan’s metropolitan areas with more than 1,000,000 residents, both those with high transit market shares and those with high auto market shares, The same is true in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“In Western Europe, where vaunted transit systems carry a far smaller share of travel than cars, all growth and then some has been in the suburbs, as overall core city populations have declined. Indeed, the same trend is well underway in middle and lower income world urban areas. In such places as Mexico City, Sao Paulo, Buenos Aires, Manila, Shanghai, Kolkata, and Jakarta, nearly all population growth has occurred in the suburbs, rather than the core cities.

“As the world faces a more expensive energy future and as efforts are intensified to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, it is sometimes suggested that people need to “move back” to the cities. This is a dubious and needless strategy, which reveals a fundamental misunderstanding of the dynamics of metropolitan growth.

“Most suburban growth is not the result of declining core city populations, but is rather a consequence of people moving from rural areas and small towns to the major metropolitan areas. It is the appeal of large metropolitan places that drives suburban growth.

“Larger metropolitan areas have more lucrative employment opportunities and generally have higher incomes than smaller metropolitan areas. This is particularly the case in developing countries. As a result, the big urban areas attract people seeking to escape what are often the stagnant or even declining economies in smaller areas.

“There are, of course, significant individual exceptions. Virtually all of the first world core cities that have achieved a population of more than 400,000 – if they have not expanded their boundaries and did not have substantial empty land for development – experienced losses to 2000. Yet even in most of these cases, the majority of suburban growth was from outside the metropolitan areas, rather than from the core cities. For example:

• St. Louis is a champion among the ranks of population losers, having lost the greatest percentage of its population of any large municipality in the world, (dropping from nearly 860,000 in 1950 to 350,000 in 2000). Indeed, it may be fair to say that St. Louis has lost more of its population than any city since the Romans sacked Carthage. Yet, even in St. Louis, 60 percent of suburban growth was from outside the metropolitan area, rather than from the city.

• Few core cities have lost the nearly 1,000,000 residents that have fled Detroit since 1950. Yet, even in Detroit, 65 percent of suburban growth was from outside the metropolitan area, rather than from the city.

• The city of Chicago lost 725,000 residents between 1950 and 2000, yet 82 percent of the suburban growth was from outside the metropolitan area. “