Poverty Moving to the Suburbs

Reihan Salam, writing for Slate:

Jim Rees, Flickr

Jim Rees, Flickr

You might be wondering why poor families are moving to the suburbs in large numbers—the number of suburban poor grew more than twice as quickly as the number of urban poor between 2000 and 2011—if they are such hard places for poor people to get ahead. Part of it is that as middle- and high-income households moved to the suburbs, the low-wage workers who look after their children had little choice but to follow. Then there is the fact that as America’s most productive cities experience a revival, gentrification is displacing low-income families to outlying neighborhoods and towns.

Before we can understand what makes some suburbs so miserable, we first have to understand what makes others succeed. The most successful suburban neighborhoods fall into two categories. First, there are the dense and walkable ones that, like the most successful urban neighborhoods, have town centers that give local residents easy access to retail and employment opportunities. These neighborhoods generally include a mix of single-family homes and apartment buildings, which allows for different kinds of families and adults at different stages of life to share in the same local amenities. The problem with these urban suburbs, as Christopher Leinberger recounts in his 2009 book The Option of Urbanism, is that there are so few of them, and this scarcity fuels the same kind of gentrification that is driving poor people out of successful cities.

Density matters, ... Look at the suburbs. Judge them by walkability, do you? Save them you can't.