Are The Poor Being Forced Into Suburbia?

MLewyn's picture

I recently read a blog post explaining that smart growth and urban infill are not so smart because it forces poor people into suburbia.  The logic behind this claim is, as far as I can tell, as follows: 1) infill means rising real estate values in cities, (2) rising real estate values means people can't afford to live there, and (3) therefore smart growth shunts the poor into suburbs.

If this theory was true, it would be most true in high-cost New York.  But in fact, today's New York Times shows that 46 percent of New Yorkers are close to the poverty level (150 percent or below), and 19 percent have incomes below the poverty level- as opposed to 17 percent before the recession.  In other words, there are MORE poor people in the city than there were five years ago.  

So the whole "poor people being displaced from the city and forced into the suburbs" claim appears to be factually wrong. 

I doubt this reality will change anyone's mind, because the argument is essentially a "heads I win, tails you lose" one from the standpoint of sprawl defenders and smart growth critics.  If poverty goes up in the city, they will say, in so many words,"Aha!  More evidence that only the shiftless poor are willing to live in cities!"  If poverty goes down, they will say "Aha!  We need to regulate infill to death because gentrification is driving the poor out of the city!" 


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