NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


October 31, 2006

Fast-growing American metropolitan areas are beginning to shift toward a European housing pattern, with wealth concentrating in the inner city and the inner-ring suburbs becoming home to large numbers of lower-income residents, says Jay Bookman in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

There are several reasons for the shift, says Bookman:

  • American suburbs have been popular with families raising children, but today fewer U.S. households include children; in fact, fewer than 50 percent of American households even include a married couple.
  • Traffic is another reason; affluent people are willing to pay a premium for intown housing to avoid the long commute, forcing the less wealthy into outlying areas.

One prime example has been Atlanta, and its surrounding suburbs, says Bookman.  In fact, one of the city's biggest challenges in the next 10 to 20 years will be holding onto low- and middle- income workforce housing, as $400,000 lofts and $700,000 homes become more prevalent.

In Atlanta and elsewhere, the shift has been mainly along demographic lines, with whites predominantly moving back into urban centers and minorities moving out into the surround suburbs.  For example:

  • In Gwinnett County (outside Atlanta) in 1980, only 4.1 percent of the population was non-white.
  • Today, the Atlanta Regional Commission estimates more than 30 percent of the county is non-white.
  • The 2005 Census puts the figure even higher, at 38.3 percent.

As a result of such changes, problems that have been typically described as urban are gradually becoming suburban, says Bookman.  Gangs, for example, have long been considered an urban phenomenon, but are now a more serious issue in suburban areas outside Atlanta.  In one suburb alone, police identified 53 active gangs in 2005, up from 33 in 2004.

Source: Jay Bookman, "As inner cities transform, so do suburbs," Atlanta Journal-Constitution, October 30, 2006.


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