Thursday, July 02, 2009

Whither The Burbs

Continuing yesterday's theme of geographic fetishism, I'll tackle the debate about the future of suburbs. As you might expect, if you read the previous post, New Geography contends that reports of the demise of sprawl are much exaggerated:

The nation’s most remote suburbs – its exurbs – are growing much faster than the central counties. Whether this trend will now reverse, of course, is up to debate. Perhaps demographic changes and higher energy costs will slow expansion on the outer fringes. More likely, the current recession may well lead to less exurban growth, but history suggests this may prove only a short-lived trend.

This conclusion is much more measured than the provocative introductory paragraph, but I don't mind the rhetorical ploy. It's an informative article and a typical Wendell Cox contribution. I enjoy a strong challenge to popular assumptions (if you haven't guessed that already).

More recent data, also from the US Census, suggest that the trend of surbanization is reversing. Will it be short-lived? I see a self-fulfilling prophecy in the making:

In Chicago, Matthew Sessa and his wife sold their townhouse and decided against buying a four-bedroom house in the suburbs. They bought a three-bedroom in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood instead, with a yard not much bigger than their garage.

"What we ended up getting in the city was just as nice, and the neighborhood that we moved into also has a very good elementary and junior high," said Mr. Sessa, a commercial banker who is 37 years old and has a baby due any day.

Anecdotes like Sessa's can help to drive migration. There also seems to be more economic opportunity in the urban core. Cities are receiving an image makeover and benefit from a well-funded marketing campaign. I think this worm has turned as urban living continues to be championed on all fronts. Policymakers and urbanophiles will seize this short-term trend and grow it into a measurable movement.

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