NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Don't Blame Cities' Ails On Sprawl

February 15, 2000

Middle-class flight to the suburbs is not the main reason urban areas are suffering, according to one of the nation's top urban experts. The Brookings Institution's Anthony Downs looked at 162 urban areas and analyzed nine sprawl indicators, then compared them with measures of urban decline.

  • He says he was surprised to find no link between aspects of sprawl -- such as low-density development, the leap-frog out to suburbs and the use of automobiles -- and urban decline.
  • He found that areas that are less sprawling than others suffer as much decline in their central cities.
  • Downs also discovered that housing and planning policies shut the poor out of suburbs and concentrate poverty in cities.
  • Suburban governments use their planning powers to keep out cheaper housing -- such as apartments and town houses.

The study throws cold water on the theory that middle-class flight to the suburbs is the main reason many cities are left with high poverty, high crime rates and struggling schools.

Downs' research is reported in the latest issue of Housing Policy Debate, a journal of the Fannie Mae Foundation.

Source: Haya El Nasser, "Researcher: Sprawl Doesn't Hurt Cities," USA Today, February 15, 2000.


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