Population and auto commuting gain in suburbs
...Perhaps no theology grips the nation’s mainstream media---and the planning community---more than the notion of inevitable suburban decline. The Obama administration’s housing secretary, Shaun Donavan, recently claimed, “We’ve reached the limits of suburban development: People are beginning to vote with their feet and come back to the central cities.”
Yet repeating a mantra incessantly does not make it true. Indeed, any analysis of the 2010 U.S. Census would make perfectly clear that rather than heading for density, Americans are voting with their feet in the opposite direction: toward the outer sections of the metropolis and to smaller, less dense cities. During the 2000s, the Census shows, just 8.6% of the population growth in metropolitan areas with more than 1 million people took place in the core cities; the rest took place in the suburbs. That 8.6% represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4%.
Nor are Americans abandoning their basic attraction for single-family dwellings or automobile commuting. Over the past decade, single-family houses grew far more than either multifamily or attached homes, accounting for nearly 80% of all the new households in the 51 largest cities. And---contrary to the image of suburban desolation---detached housing retains a significantly lower vacancy rate than the multi-unit sector, which has also suffered a higher growth in vacancies even the crash.
Similarly, notes demographer Wendell Cox, despite a 45% boost in gas prices, the country gained almost 8 million lone auto commuters in the past 10 years. Transit ridership, while up slightly, is still stuck at the 1990 figure of 5%, while the number of home commuters grew roughly six times as quickly...
Rather than flee to density, the Census showed a population shift from more dense to less dense places. The top ten population gainers among metropolitan areas---growing by 20%, twice the national average, or more---are the low-density Las Vegas, Raleigh, Austin, Charlotte, Riverside–San Bernardino, Orlando, Phoenix, Houston, San Antonio and Atlanta. By contrast, many of the densest metropolitan areas---including San Francisco, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston and New York---grew at rates half the national average or less.
Less friendly to the meme of density’s manifest destiny has been a simultaneous meltdown in the urban condo market. Massive reductions in condo prices of as much as 50% or more have particularly hurt the areas around Miami, Portland, Chicago and Atlanta. There are open holes, empty storefronts, and abandoned projects in downtowns across the country that, if laid flat, would appear as desperate as the foreclosure ravaged fringe areas...
In fact the media reports about the “death” of fringe suburbs seem to be more a matter of wishful thinking than fact. If the new urbanists want to do something useful, they might apply themselves by helping these peripheral places of aspiration evolve successfully. That’s far more constructive than endlessly insisting on---or trying to legislate---their inevitable demise.