Suburbs are Growing Faster

A report from the US Census Bureau shows that the nation continues to suburbanize.

The US Bureau of Census released the report Population Change in Central and Outlying Counties of Metropolitan Statistical Areas: 2000 to 2007, which shows that the U.S. continues to suburbanize. The new report compares population trends between "central counties" and "outlying counties".

"The nation's most remote suburbs – its exurbs – are growing much faster than the central counties. Whether this trend will now reverse, of course, is up to debate. Perhaps demographic changes and higher energy costs will slow expansion on the outer fringes. More likely, the current recession may well lead to less exurban growth, but history suggests this may prove only a short-lived trend."

Full Story: Exurban Growth Greater than Central Growth: Census Bureau



Bricks are Heavy

Nonetheless, the conclusion of the new report is clear. The nation’s most remote suburbs – its exurbs – are growing much faster than the central counties.

And the article pretty much boils down to that — that the center areas, handicapped by being largely built already, are growing more slowly than the outer areas, with lots of unbuilt land.

And this article is in response to "consistent media 'spin' that people are leaving the suburbs to move to core cities" — "spin" that the author does nothing to disprove in this article. Outer areas might be growing, but that doesn't mean some people are not moving inward.

See also this other article by the same author on the same blog for more "so what" material.

This article is misleading. Here's how:

Mr. Cox confuses the significance of percentage population growth and actual population growth. He suggests that higher per capita growth rates in the exurban regions demonstrate the occurrence of "strong domestic outmigration from central counties."

The author states that the outlying counties grew 2.3x faster than the central counties on average, and based upon this assertion he implies that the notion that people are leaving the suburbs for the city is "spin".

Mr. Cox's reasoning, however, is specious.

To illustrate:

Let us analyze the data for the Chicago region. According to Mr. Cox, the core counties, accounting for 92% of the population of the metropolitan region, grew in population by about 4.5% between 2000 and 2007, while the outlying counties grew by a much larger 12.5%, approximately.

For purposes of simplification, let us assume that the Chicago metro area has 10,000,000 people. This would mean that 9,200,000 live in the core counties, and 800,000 in the outlying counties. If the core county population increased by 4.5%, it would mean an addition of 414,000 people. Meanwhile, if the outlying county population increased by 12.5%, it would translate to an increase of 100,000 people.

This means that the core counties, despite a dearth of developable land, higher costs, etc., accounted for over 80% of the population growth in the metropolitan region. This hardly suggests the "strong domestic outmigration" that Mr. Cox would like you to believe.

It would appear that one must take Mr. Cox's pro-sprawl arguments with a grain of salt, especially while reading his book "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life" (Right.)

Thanks for reading.

Graham Pugh



Good Refutation Of Wendell Cox

Thanks for showing so clearly that Cox makes the elementary error of looking at percentage growth and ignoring actual population numbers.

Charles Siegel

Families Live in Suburbs - Central or Outlying

None of this should be surprising. And does it really matter whether the suburban development is central or outlying? In either case, the development is of a form that has been shunned by the intellectual world of design and planning. We've heard for 30 years how bad suburbs are, in our college education, at conferences, and in periodicals. More urban living may be right for childless singles and couples, but the realities of child-rearing draw those same people to the suburbs for a bit of back yard and some space for hobbies - and some landscape.

While suburban developers have been pushing the suburban model denser and more land-efficient, the academic and intellectual world of design and planning have focused on urban living as the answer, yet the focus has generally not included families with children. We have been disrespecting the residents, developers, architects and landscape architects that create suburbs with the goal of stopping suburban development altogether. This approach has not worked for decades.

It is time for us to take seriously the needs and wants of family living. Design and planning for families should be our highest intellectual priority, but not just because we see it as having the biggest footprint on the land. Recall the excitement of "modern living" in the 50s and 60s when Sunset Magazine promoted outdoor living and the integration of architecture and landscape architecture - for families of post-war United States. I think we can create that excitement again, but this time with an eye toward land use and the environment, but we won't be successful until the academic and intellectual world takes on the task as a positive endeavor.

Paul Deering, Landscape Architect, Davis, CA

Look Deeper

I think you really need to look deeper at the type of urban development and urbanization that is being proposed. Sure, there is lots of hoopla surrounding downtown revitalization projects that involve plenty of apartment towers, restaurants, bars and active urban living. But a lot of what is being proposed it ideally suited to families. Denser nodes around rapid transit stops that include a mix of uses (including places for families to shop), as well as a mix of housing types (including row houses with backyards and narrow-lot single-family homes with backyards) and plenty of public green space are all ideally suited to families with children.

The problem is that developers and NIMBY types often hijack the debate and frame it as "apartment towers vs. single family homes", and accuse people of wanting to turn their neighbourhoods into another downtown . It is precisely NOT that type of A vs. B thinking! It is about having a mix of land uses, activities and housing types in each neighbourhood so that not all young singles feel the need to live downtown and not all families need the need to live way out in the distant suburbs.

Nearly all mixed-use development (read: TOD) proposals I've seen have plenty of excellent choices for families. No one I've talked to has ever proposed only downtown-style living. Those in the "academic and intellectual world" have not only taken on the task, they've proposed excellent solutions. You just need to look at what's really on the table.

Prepare for the AICP* Exam

Join the thousands of students who have utilized the Planetizen AICP* Exam Preparation Class to prepare for the American Planning Association's AICP* exam.
Starting at $245

Essential Readings in Urban Planning

Planning on taking the AICP* Exam? Register for Planetizen's AICP * Exam Preparation Course to save $25.
Habitat blockitecture tower

Build the world you want to see

Irresistible block set for adults when placed on a coffee table or desk, and great fun for kids.
Women's t-shirt with map of Los Angeles

City T-Shirts for the ladies!

Women's Supersoft CityFabric© Fashion Fit Tees. Now available in six different cities.