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What Do Cities With Fewer Cars Have in Common?

A new analysis looks at how income and population density are related to car ownership and some ways that the design of cities can help lessen car dependence.
May 28, 2019, 6am PDT | Camille Fink
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Henry Grabar writes about trends in car ownership rates and the relationship to the income levels and population density of cities. He asked Issi Romem of Trulia to analyze data for metropolitan areas across the country:

Here’s what Romem found: In dense, transit-rich cities like New York and Boston, vehicle ownership is more closely linked to population density than to income. What kind of neighborhood you live in is likely to align with whether you own a car, or two. In places like Los Angeles and Houston, vehicle ownership is much more closely tied to income. Families who make more money buy more cars.

He notes that some cities show a mix of factors. In Chicago, for example, the lowest-income areas have low car ownership rates, but ownership rates increase both with income and density. "On average, Romem finds, rising income and falling population density have approximately the same positive correlation with car ownership," says Grabar.

Grabar considers what these findings mean for policy and environmental initiatives like the Green New Deal. He suggests that city designs that support car driving as a choice rather than a necessity would provide the biggest environmental and social benefits.

"We can try to build more cities like these, where jobs are accessible by fast, frequent transit and housing is dense enough to support walkable amenities. Or we can make it possible for more people to live in the neighborhoods that have gotten something right," he concludes.

Full Story:
Published on Friday, May 17, 2019 in Slate
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