December 8, 2019

CITIES WERE A MISTAKE:

Suburban Legend: Contrary to the media narrative, an urban resurgence has not come at the expense of other communities. (Steven Malanga, Autumn 2019, City Journal)

For more than a decade, leading urbanists and their media disciples have touted the idea that a resurgence of cities was occurring at the expense of suburbs, a trend that amounted to a historical reversal of American living preferences. The revival of some central business districts and the gentrification of old industrial neighborhoods into hip new urban enclaves fed a back-to-the-city narrative, while an exodus of the poor into nearby suburbs and a Great Recession-era plunge in housing values sparked conjecture that the classic suburb was in decline. Much of this narrative is anecdotal, however, or relies on selectively chosen data. Comprehensive research on hundreds of urban and suburban neighborhoods over the last four decades, published earlier this year, tells a different story. While the demographics of cities and suburbs are changing, the suburbs have continued to outperform urban neighborhoods on multiple economic and demographic variables, solidifying their hold on American wealth and status. The good news is that the urban revival in many places is real. The better news is that it hasn't come at the expense of other communities.

The terms "city" and "suburbs" are often used imprecisely. To get at the heart of the way communities are changing, Harvard researcher Whitney Airgood-Obrycki examined the nation's 100 most populous metropolitan areas in detail--classifying census tracks within each area as either urban, inner-ring suburb, or outer-ring suburb. She also subdivided suburban communities based on when they were developed: pre-World War II, postwar, and modern. Airgood-Obrycki then graded each neighborhood on factors like income levels, education, occupations of residents, and housing values, and tracked communities' progress over time.

What the data yield is illuminating. Most of the nation's "high-status" communities--neighborhoods in the top quartile of economic and demographic performance--are suburban. And the suburbs' advantage over cities has increased over time, from 68 percent of the top-performing neighborhoods in the 1970s to 74 percent by 2010. Incomes are considerably greater, moreover, among suburban communities that rank among the highest-status neighborhoods than among city districts that also fall into that category. At the same time, the suburbs have done a better job of holding off decline. Among areas that have seen average household incomes shrink, the declines have been deepest in city neighborhoods, not struggling suburban areas. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the suburbs maintained their advantage to some degree because of development. Some of the biggest gains recorded in the study came in newer suburbs. By contrast, older suburbs--typically, inner-ring areas closest to cities--accounted for fewer gains.

The most effective anti-poverty/educational reform program would be to move inner city residents to the suburbs. Of course, the prospect of minority kids attending our kids' schools is why the idea of just busing is greeted with such hysteria.

Posted by at December 8, 2019 9:25 AM

  

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