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Affluence Still at Home in the Suburbs

Commentators often say an influx of wealth is transforming American cities. But if prosperity is really still suburban, what are the consequences for the environment?
March 19, 2015, 6am PDT | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Andrew Guyton

Working from a Martin Prosperity Institute study on residential segregation, Ben Adler argues, "The gentrification trend in a handful of coastal cities has been blown way out of proportion by journalists who happen to live there, when far more urban neighborhoods remain mired in poverty."

"This is bad news for the environment. The constant push to expand the urban periphery paves over undeveloped land and requires carbon-intensive activities, from cutting down trees to mixing asphalt. Once they get to the suburbs, people consume more energy to heat and cool their larger, detached homes, water their bigger lawns, and drive more frequently and farther."

Adler points out that the urban rebirth hypothesis confuses city and metro area statistics: actual city residents remain poorer than their suburban neighbors. From the article: "In addition to the suburb-versus-city segregation, suburbs are themselves typically more economically segregated than cities, because they do not offer as wide a variety of housing types. A suburban town that requires each house to sit on its own lot of no less than, say, one-quarter of an acre, makes all the housing unaffordable to low-income workers."

The article also calls attention to non-resident visitors, a source of diversity that suburbs often lack. "Another way you will see more diversity in those New York neighborhoods is that you will encounter people in them, such as shoppers and workers, who do not live there. As [Richard] Florida readily agrees, measuring residential segregation only tells part of the story of what people experience in their daily lives."

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Published on Tuesday, March 10, 2015 in Grist
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