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Sun Belt Sprawl Might Not Be Forever

Will sprawling cities stay sprawled? Starting in their downtowns, some Sun Belt behemoths are embracing denser, more walkable forms.
March 8, 2017, 8am PST | Philip Rojc | @PhilipRojc
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Sun Belt centers are building out transit.
Roy Luck

Home to about one-sixth of the U.S. population, "sprawling cities" are small regional centers that ballooned out over the past 60 years into distinctly unwalkable suburban metropolises. 

For CNU, Robert Steuteville identifies 25 such locations, characterized by their auto-dependent development patterns since 1950. "Because of the infrastructure and built patterns since 1950, only 6 percent of residents walk, bike, or take transit to work in sprawling cities. Because they are so automobile dependent, they impose much higher transportation costs on residents."

Located in the Sun Belt (and elsewhere in the nation's southern half), "sprawling cities are diverse places—about a third of the population is Hispanic. Average household income tops $54,000, which is about the same as traditional cities. Crime is relatively low in sprawling cities, although death and injury by automobile is higher than traditional cities."

Steuteville points to some signs that despite their unwieldy infrastructure, these cities are becoming more traditionally urban. "Downtowns of sprawling cities were among the first to revive. A prime example is Fort Worth, which rebuilt a walkable downtown over the course of two decades, culminating in the fabulous Sundance Square." Economically vibrant and affordable, "sprawling cities have the market strength to rebuild [old malls] as mixed-use centers."

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Published on Thursday, February 9, 2017 in CNU
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