Residential suburbanization, or population deconcentration, refers to the relocation or movement of the population from the core of a city to new housing in peripheral, suburban zones. The process of suburbanization effects population settlement, environment, and society. Understanding the role that suburbanization plays in a society and its economy is vital background for all who are interested in the sociology of population, urbanization, and the environment. This article explores the sociology of suburbanization in four parts: (1) an overview of the history of suburbanization in the United States; (2) a discussion of urban and suburban planning; (3) an explanation of the ways in which social scientists study suburbanization in different nations and cultures; and (4) an exploration of the effect of suburbanization on American cities.
Keywords Congestion Pricing; Decentralization; Deficits; Federal Government; Public Policy; Reverse Commuting; Society; Sociology; Suburbanization; Suburbs; Urban Planning; Urban Sprawl
Residential suburbanization, or population deconcentration, refers to the relocation or movement of the population from the core of a city to new housing in peripheral, suburban zones. Suburbs, a twentieth- century phenomena, refer to residential clusters on the periphery of a city or town. During the twentieth century, urban centers transformed into business zones while suburbs became residential zones. Residential and commercial suburbanization is a global phenomenon, which began in the twentieth century in response to new transportation technologies, the development of highway systems, federally guaranteed mortgages, new single-dwelling construction, changing family structures, telecommuting, new conceptions of employment and public policy.
This article explores the sociology of suburbanization in four parts:
(1) An overview of the history of suburbanization in the United States;
(2) A discussion of urban and suburban planning;
(3) An explanation of the ways in which social scientists study suburbanization in different nations and cultures; and
(4) An exploration of the effect of suburbanization on American cities.
The History of Suburbanization in the United States
According to 2000 U.S. Census data, approximately half of the US population lived in suburbs in 2000. The demographic composition of suburbs favors non-Hispanic whites, Hispanics, Asian Americans, and the elderly. More than half of senior citizens lived in the suburbs in 2000. American suburbs have been growing in quantity and size since the 1920s. More than 60 percent of new housing between 1990 and 2000 was constructed in the suburbs (Hobbs & Stoops, 2002). The urban-suburban environment in the United States has been shaped by forces including the development of the automobile, federally guaranteed mortgages, Supreme Court racial integration rulings, and the highway system. For instance, the Federal Highway Act of 1956 funded the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate highway over a twenty-year period.
Urban growth and development in the United States has proceeded through four main periods:
- Inner cities developed by 1900,
- Inner suburbs developed between 1900 and 1940 with the support of streetcars and railroads,
- Suburbs developed between 1940 and 1980 with the support of automobiles and federally guaranteed mortgages for single family homes, and
- Outer suburbs developed after 1980 as residential subdivisions connected by highways and serviced by commercial and retail efforts.
In the post–World War II United States, federal subsidies, such as GI loans and FHA mortgages, facilitated the movement of the population from high population density areas to low-density areas. GI loans were made available to veterans following World War II as part of the 1944 Serviceman's Readjustment Act. FHA loans, which began during the 1930s, are guaranteed by the Federal Housing Authority and intended to promote home ownership among America's lower economic class. Home-ownership, promoted through commercial advertisement and facilitated by government policy and a strong economy, became a shared cultural value during the post–World War II years. In the United States, there have been multiple waves of suburbanization. Each phase of suburbanization increased the decentralization of homes, marketplaces, and jobs. The US population pattern since World War II has changed significantly. In 1950, seven out of ten Americans lived in urban centers, but by 1990, six out of ten Americans lived in suburban areas (Stahura, 1986).
The current trend in population settlement patterns finds the majority of Americans living in metropolitan regions with one million residents or more. That said, some economically depressed metropolitan areas, such as Detroit, are not able to attract and maintain large populations. Urban planners predict that decentralization patterns will continue, causing a population growth in suburban areas. Employment influences the urban-suburban divide. The shift from a manufacturing economy to an information-driven service economy has changed the location and character of workplaces and occupations. Businesses are no longer dependent on urban centers as transportation hubs. Businesses may choose to locate in the suburbs without economic penalty. Reverse commutes, available employees, information technology, settlement patterns, tax incentives, business-friendly zoning, and the availability of new construction sites all draw businesses to the suburbs (Garreau, 1992)
Suburbanization affects environments, communities, families, and economies. For instance, local environments, as measured by air quality as well as the health of animal species and bodies of water, may be endangered by the rise in commuter pollution caused by suburban residents commuting by car to their jobs in urban centers. Strategies for reducing the negative environmental impact of suburbs include carpooling, rapid transit train, bus and ferry systems, bicycle commuting, and reverse commuting (Smith, 1996).
Urban planning, which refers to the interdisciplinary efforts to coordinate commercial and residential land use, transportation systems, and community needs, attempts to control, address, and prevent urban sprawl, decentralization, and urban decay caused, in part, by suburbanization. Urban sprawl refers to the unplanned and unorganized growth of development into the periphery of urban centers. Decentralization refers to population shifts that occur between regions during periods of rapid economic growth or change.
Urban and suburban planners use multiple types of policies of programs to manage the environmental, social, and economic effects of large population shifts from urban to suburban regions. Examples of public policies that attempt to address and halt urban sprawl and urban decline caused, in part, by suburbanization, include impact fees, congestion pricing, tax-base sharing, special taxing districts, concurrency planning, affordable housing strategies, regional government, and growth management. Cities around the world are incorporating these development strategies, described below, to address the economic problems of urban decline, urban sprawl, and deconcentration (Keil, 2006).
- Congestion pricing is a mechanism that accounts for traffic-related costs and imposes them on local businesses and commuters. One of the main examples of congestion pricing is peak-hour road pricing in which motorists are charged higher tolls on congested highways during peak hours.
- Impact fees refer to "charges that localities impose on developers to generate revenue instead of making existing residents pay for the new or improved capital projects" necessitated by development.
- Concurrency planning refers to "planning in which public services and infrastructure must be provided at the same time as new development is built."
- Reverse commuting programs promote and, in some cases, "provide inner-city residents with transportation to and from suburban jobs."
- Affordable housing programs aid city residents in moving to the outer suburbs and gaining access and proximity to the new centers of job growth. These programs may include loans, information, zoning changes, grants, and subsidized suburban housing.
- Tax-base sharing programs refer to a tax system in which urban and suburban municipalities share revenue with each other rather than keeping funds for the exclusive use of their area. Tax-sharing programs address the problem of unequal taxable property and businesses.
- Growth management refers to "an explicit, ongoing program to shape or control growth through some combination of intervention techniques and policies." Examples of growth management programs include "constraints on the density of development permitted through zoning or limitations on subdivisions; design and human capacity standards for lots and buildings; requirement of adequate public facilities or imposition...
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