How to Define the Suburban: HUD Survey Sheds New Light

A new HUD survey could help change the way the federal government defines the "suburban"—a notoriously tricky proposition.

2 minute read

July 1, 2020, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Suburban Alley

1000 Words / Shutterstock

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's 2017 American Housing Survey (AHS) included a question about whether respondents consider their neighborhoods to be urban, suburban, or rural, hoping to shed more light on one of the toughest questions in planning and development: What's a suburb, exactly?

According to a webpage hosted by the Office and Policy Development and Research, "HUD obtained responses to the neighborhood description question from nearly 76,000 households, including approximately 2,150 households in each of 25 large metropolitan areas," making it the largest ever survey on this question, expanding on a previous effort by Trulia. (The Pew Research Center has also undertaken a similar survey effort.)

The webpage sharing the new survey data also offers insights into why the motivations behind the survey, and one is a telling revelation about the disconnect between public policy on issues of land use and development compared to the realities of community for most Americans. "HUD wanted to understand the extent to which existing federal definitions of urban and rural obscure the stylized fact that half of Americans live in a suburban setting." HUD's effort to reveal the way federal definitions obscure the realities of American development patterns could inform reform in the next generation of federal definitions. 

"To date, HUD has published two products from this data. First, HUD created a series of summary tables summarizing some basic results. Second, HUD and coauthors created the Urbanization Perceptions Small Area Index, which classified each census tract as urban, suburban, or rural based on the 2017 AHS data."

Tuesday, June 30, 2020 in Office and Policy Development and Research

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