Driven into Poverty: Walkable Urbanism and the Suburbanization of Poverty

David Moser pens a compelling essay that examines the ways in which sprawling auto-dependent land use patterns exacerbate poverty. As more low-income individuals and families are pushed to the suburbs, "this problem is gaining urgency."
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"There are many reasons suburbs make the experience of poverty worse, but first among them is that automobiles are really expensive," argues Moser. "Purchasing, maintaining, repairing, insuring, and fueling a car can easily consume 50% or more of a limited income. For someone struggling to work themselves out of poverty, these expenses can wreck havoc on even the most diligent efforts to maintain a monthly budget."

"The lower one’s income, the greater is the proportional advantage of living in a walkable, 'car-optional' neighborhood. Those with limited financial resources can benefit from walkability the most. But due to the scarcity and cost of urban housing, low-income people are being driven away from walkable urbanism and into auto-dependent sub-urbanism."

Moser uses Seattle as a case study to demonstrate that the types of environments most able to support auto-free lifestyles also have the highest rents, whereas those neighborhoods with more affordable prices also have the lowest walkability scores.

The solution? Moser says "[t]he only way to slow this process is to build enough housing to meet the demand, preferably near transit." Efforts to limit development and preserve existing "neighborhood character" must be defeated, he asserts.

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