Brookings: Fastest growing poverty rates occur in suburbs

In places where sprawl without smart regional planning continues its inexorable march outward (and with it its expensive, car-dependent attitude), it is unsurprising that these areas might also see many of the problems commonly associated with the "inner-city."

A new Brookings Institution report finds that "between 2000 and 2008, suburbs in the country’s largest metro areas saw their poor population grow by 25 percent—almost five times faster than primary cities and well ahead of the growth seen in smaller metro areas and non-metropolitan communities. As a result, by 2008 large suburbs were home to 1.5 million more poor than their primary cities and housed almost one-third of the nation’s poor overall."

Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic provided further analysis (along with a terrific, sortable table of the data):

"In eighteen of the 95 metropolitan areas studied, inner-city poverty decreased or remained the same even as suburban poverty increased or remained the same. This was true of Northeast U.S. regions as a whole. The old assumptions about American cities being home to the poor and their suburbs housing the wealthy are quickly falling by the wayside."

Freemark notes the counterintuitive nature of these problems; because of the car-dependent nature of many suburban communities, immediate efforts to address poverty in the suburbs through better public transportation "will be a failure in the short-term. This also means, unfortunately, that policies that increase costs of driving will fall directly on a large number of the working poor."

The new challenges presented by these developments include efficient delivery of social services, volatile housing markets and, of particular concern for Freemark, access to affordable transportation:

"We cannot continue allowing — and often subsidizing — people to live in isolated cul-de-sac neighborhoods completely inaccessible to anything by anything but a private automobiles. We must construct new town centers in suburban communities with essential services and mixed-income housing accessible via transit to urban cores. The current trends, enforced by local, state, and national planning decisions, are producing a lower class that spends far too much on private transportation."

Read the full Transport Politic post here.


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