NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Is Suburbia Doomed? Not So Fast.

December 5, 2011

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, says Joel Kotkin, executive editor of

  • 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 percent 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 percent represents a decline from the 1990s, when the figure was 15.4 percent.

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 percent 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 after the crash.

It turns out that while urban land owners, planners and pundits love density, people for the most part continue to prefer space, if they can afford it, says Kotkin.

Source: Joel Kotkin, "Is Suburbia Doomed? Not So Fast," New Geography, November 30, 2011.

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