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What Trump Gets Wrong About America’s Suburbs

The Trump administration’s talk about protecting the suburbs is based on misrepresentations of who really lives in suburbs and what these communities need.
August 30, 2020, 7am PDT | Camille Fink
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"Given the scale of American suburbia, talking about 'the suburbs' writ large invariably papers over the differences that exist across this spectrum of communities, which range in population (from fewer than 100 residents to hundreds of thousands), location (from streetcar suburbs to exurbs), and built environment (from strip malls and subdivisions to dense, walkable downtowns)," writes Elizabeth Kneebone.

In addition, suburbs are diverse in terms of income, race, and ethnicity, but this does not mean all suburbs are equal. Exclusionary zoning and land use regulations have resulted in significant inequities. “These practices have allowed certain jurisdictions and neighborhoods to hoard wealth and opportunity, fueling racial and economic segregation and creating disparities not only between suburbs and cities but also within suburbia as well,” Kneebone.

In addition, the kind of suburbs touted by President Trump and Ben Carson—filled with single-family homes and with high average household incomes and low poverty rates—make up just one-fifth of suburban neighborhoods.

"Trump and Carson denigrate 'urban cities' by writing that they often struggle to 'provide for their citizens’ basic needs in housing, public safety and education'—but that is also the reality for many small, resource-strapped suburbs scattered across the fragmented patchwork of suburban America," says Kneebone.

They should instead, she argues, focus on policies and programs that will help people living in suburbs. Rent relief, tenant protections, and federal aid to states and cities are what is needed to bolster the suburbs that Trump and Carson allegedly want to save.

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Published on Thursday, August 20, 2020 in The Avenue (Brookings)
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