So Long Suburbia: Construction in US Cities Shifting Back to Urban Core


Image by Ian Duke, via Wikipedia Commons.

The boundless growth of suburban sprawl in the US, long blamed for everything from climate change to social segregation, may finally be slowing down. According to a new study by the EPA, new construction in the urban cores and older suburbs of American cities is beginning to catch up with the pace of home construction in the suburbs. Is this the beginning of the end of suburbia as we know it?In a study of the 50 largest metropolitan regions in the US, the EPA found that in 26 of them the percentage of growth occurring downtown has doubled or tripled since 2000. Using data on residential building permits over the last two decades, the study found that the pace of downtown growth has especially picked up over the last five years.

In New York, for example, the city's urban core accounted for only 15% of the metropolitan region's new building permits back in the early 1990's. In recent years, it has averaged close to 50%. Chicago, Portland, Denver and Seattle experienced a similar inward shift.

When older suburban areas are added to the equation, the numbers are even higher. The report calls this a "fundamental shift in the real estate market," noting that suburban and exurban areas were apparently hit harder by the real estate downturn than more central areas.

Based on data from 2008 and before, the study does not cover the period since Barack Obama took office. If it did, it would probably find a further acceleration of the back to the city trend. The Obama Administration is encouraging this trend with something called the Partnership for Sustainable Cities, an attempt to integrate federal housing, transportation and environmental policy, and encourage smart growth over sprawl.

All of this is good for Americans, who will benefit from a greater range of housing options, as well as the rest of the world, as the American suburban lifestyle is a major source of waste and carbon emissions.

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