Poverty and Growth: Retro-Urbanists Cling to the Myth of Suburban Decline

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In the wake of the post-2008 housing bust, suburbia has become associated with many of the same ills long associated with cities, as our urban-based press corps and cultural elite cheerfully sneer at each new sign of decline. This conceit was revealed most recently in a a studyreleased Monday by the Brookings Institution--which has become something of a Vatican for anti-suburban theology--trumpeting the news that there are now 1 million more poor people in America's suburbs than in its cities.

America’s suburbs, noted one British journalist, are becoming “ghost towns” as middle-class former suburbanites migrate to the central core. That’s simply untrue: both the 2010 Census and other more recent analyses demonstrate that America is becoming steadily more suburban: 44 million Americans live in America’s 51 major metropolitan areas, while nearly 122 million Americans live in their suburbs. In other words, nearly three quarters of metropolitan Americans live in suburbs, not core cities.

The main reason there are now more poor people in the suburbs is that there are now many more people in the suburbs, which have represented almost all of America’s net population growth in recent years. Despite trite talk about “suburban ghettos,” suburbs have a poverty rate roughly half that of urban centers (20.9 percent in core compared to 11.4 percent in the suburbs as of 2010).

To be sure, poverty in suburbs, or anywhere else, must be addressed. But not long ago, suburbs were widely criticized for being homogeneous; now they are mocked for having many of the problems associated with being “inclusive.”

Many poor suburbs are developing because minorities and working-class populations are moving to suburbs. Yet even accounting for these shifts, cities continue to contain pockets of wealth and gentrification that give way to swathes of poverty. In Brooklyn, it’s a short walk east from designer shoe stores and locavore eateries to vast stretches of slumscape. The sad fact is that in American cities, poor people—not hipsters or yuppies—constitute the fastest-growing population. In the core cities of the 51 metropolitan areas, 81 percent of the population increase over the past decade was under the poverty line, compared to 32 percent of the suburban population increase.

In Chicago, oft cited as an exemplar of “the great inversion” of affluence from suburbs to cities, the city poverty rate stands at 22.5 percent, compared to 10 percent in the suburbs. In New York, roughly 20 percent of the city population lives in poverty, compared to only 9 percent in the suburbs.

Looking at it from a national perspective, most of the major metropolitan counties with the highest rates of poverty are all urban core, starting with the Bronx, with 30 percent of people living under the poverty line, followed by Orleans Parish (New Orleans), Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Richmond, Va. In contrast all 10 large counties with the lowest poverty rates are all suburban.

This divergence has an impact on other measurements of social health. Despite substantial improvement in crime rates in “core cities” over the past two decades, suburban areas generally have substantially lower crime rates, according to Brookings Institution’s own research. Yet at the same time suburban burgs dominate the list of safest cities over 100,000 led by Irvine and Temecula, Calif., followed by Cary, N.C. Overall suburban crime remains far lower than that in core cities.

A review of 2011 crime data, as reported by the FBI, indicates that the violent-crime rate in the core cities of major metropolitan areas was approximately 3.4 times that of the suburbs. (The data covers 47 of the 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million population, with data not being available for Chicago, Las Vegas, Minneapolis-St. Paul, and Providence.)

In the least suburbanized core cities, that is places that have annexed little or no territory since before World War II (New York, Philadelphia, Washington, etc.) the violent crime rate was 4.3 times the suburban rate. Among the 24 metropolitan areas that had strong central cities at the beginning of World War II but which have significant amounts of postwar suburban territory (Portland, Seattle, Milwaukee, Los Angeles, etc.), the violent crime rate is 3.1 times the suburban rate. Among the metropolitan areas that did not have strong pre–World War II core cities (San Jose, Austin, Phoenix, etc.), the violent crime rate was 2.2 times the suburban rate. Basically, the more suburban the metropolis, the lower the crime rate.  

Rather than castigating suburbs for exaggerated dysfunction, retro-urbanists would be much better served focusing on how to correct and confront the issue of poverty, which continues to concentrate heavily in the urban core and elsewhere in America.

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. His most recent study, The Rise of Postfamilialism, has been widely discussed and distributed internationally. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.

This piece originally appeared in the The Daily Beast.

Suburban neighborhood photo by Bigstock.



















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A county that has

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Ouch...

"U.S. Cities Growing Faster Than Suburbs"

Sorry Joel, but you're wrong yet again.

http://blogs.wsj.com/economics/2013/05/23/u-s-cities-growing-faster-than...

Sorry Joel, but you're wrong

Sorry Joel, but you're wrong yet again..
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Planning faddists denial and ignorance knows no bounds

And that blog posting merely epitomises every failure of analysis that Joel has addressed again and again and again.

1) The 2011 municipality estimates were virtually meaningless, since they were simply percentage allocation of county growth to municipalities based upon their share of the 2010 population

2) the greatest historical core municipality growth has been in those with the most "suburban" land use characteristics.

More here (as you already know):

http://www.newgeography.com/content/003740-texas-suburbs-lead-population...

I would like to add my own 50 cents worth to this discussion about any seeming "return to the city".

The findings of Anthony Downs and the other authors of the “Costs of Sprawl 2000” Report, are directly relevant here. That is, the more expensive houses are relative to incomes, the more incentive there is for households, especially first home buyers, to locate further away from the centre of a city, because the savings on housing costs are greater than the additional cost of travel (of course the location of employment is on average always weighted towards the centre). So during the inflation phase of a price bubble caused by urban planning, you get rapid growth in "sand suburbs" as the "least unaffordable" option for "housing plus transport" costs for young households.

Ironically, now that property prices have crashed in many bubble cities, and interest rates set by central banks have been lowered to record levels to “stimulate” economies, there has been a temporary increase in the number of areas where “the exception to the rule” applies and savings may be made in “housing plus transport costs” by moving closer to a job that is closer to the urban center. Advocates of urban growth containment of course completely misinterpret the underlying mechanisms that have led to this phenomenon, and commentary abounds to the effect that “we always knew the cost of petrol would kill those remote suburbs”.

The reality is more a case of the planning-oppressed first home buyers being able to walk free of their non-recourse mortgage and obtain a home at the location that would not have been priced out of their reach in the first place absent the perverse consequences of the urban planning. (This phenomenon is far weaker where mortgages are “full recourse”; in this case the first home buyer’s serfdom at the hands of the planners and the banks is permanent).

Suburban is meaningless

Why do we evil talk about these things in terms of "suburbs" and "cities"? They don't indicate the age of the housing, income levels, etc. For example, much of city of Denver, Colorado is suburban ( built in last 2, 20, 50 years, low density, strip malls, etc) Yet since it's within the borders of the core city, the 250k - 400k of it's 620k resident that live in it's suburban-style areas get counted as "living in the city" and not under those suburban folks.

As you know, all sorts of cities in the south and west as similar. In the context of determining what people want based on where people are moving, it inflates the numbers for the "growth" of the core cities. More importantly it begs the question of why we can't come up with a better definition of what constitutes "city" and "suburban" than just some municipal borders.

More importantly it begs the

More importantly it begs the question of why we can't come up with a better definition of what constitutes ..
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Suburban V urban

I agree completely. Having moved from the east coast to the west discussion of "urban core" is meaningless. Cities are sprwling metros in comparison to east coast and Midwest cities.
Furthermore, many writers don't even see the absurdity of their statements. Bruce Katz of Brookings in remarks given at a Houston meeting (published in Brookings) keeps refering to downtown core development and includes Silicon Valley! Isn't this the poster child for suburban sprawl? Is Silicon Valley San Jose? Santa Clara? And where is this downtown Silicon Valley to which all are moving to?
Just thinking but if Chicago could incorporate all of Kane County we would be reading articles on how everyone in Chicagoland is moving back to the city.....

Even large parts of Chicago

Even large parts of Chicago are pretty suburban in nature too. You don't have to go to Kane county to find suburbs.

What to do

I am interested in ideas which will "fix poverty" that do not include the same old "throw more money at it" plan. After nearly fifty years of the war on poverty and a trillion dollars spent we have accomplished nothing. How about something radical like personal responsibility? I am not your Daddy.

Hypersensitive?

"Cultural elite... conceit... mocked..."

Your blogs and the information within them would have far more credibility without the judgmental attitude and hypersensitivity. Your readers are not your enemies. Most of us are simply interested in the issue of urban growth/decline and want to hear multiple sides of the same story. But written with such vitriol, I am more inclined to write off your information as more biased blathering with an obvious agenda.

Facts and discourse and deserved labels

That would be a pity, given the obviousness of who has the FACTS on their side.

Personally, I think the elites who are doing so much damage to the young and disadvantaged with their utopian policies, deserve far more vitriol than to merely be described accurately, as "elites". And they DO "mock" suburban living, and they DO have "conceits", which is a term most appropriately used by Hayek about "planners".