Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs

By William Lucy, David Phillips

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Cities ruled the first half of the 20th century; the second half belonged to the suburbs. Will cities become dominant again? Can the recent decline of many suburbs be slowed? 

Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs predicts a surprising outcome in the decades-long tug-of-war between urban hubs and suburban outposts.

Planning scholars William H. Lucy and David L. Phillips document signs of resurgence in cities and interpret omens of decline in many suburbs. They offer an extensive analysis of the 2000 census, with insights into the influence of income disparities, housing age and size, racial segregation, immigration, and poverty. They also examine popular perceptions-and misperceptions-about safety and danger in cities, suburbs, and exurbs that affect settlement patterns.

Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs offers evidence that the decline of cities can continue to be reversed, tempered by a warning of a mid-life crisis looming in the suburbs. It also offers practical policies for local action, steps that planners, elected officials, and citizens can take to create an environment in which both cities and suburbs can thrive.

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Date Published
Feb. 1, 2006
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents


1. Is the Past Prologue for Change? 3
Disparities in Relative Income 4
Growth, Sprawl, and Disparities 6
Housing Markets, Mobility, and Federal Policies 8
Consumerism and Careerism 9
Local Government Development Decisions 10
Tyranny of Easy Development Decisions 11
Beliefs and Public Policies 12
Order of Chapters 13
Beliefs and Places 15

2. Too Little Housing in Policy Critiques 19
Land Consumption 20
Poverty Concentrations 21
Taxable Resource Inequalities 21
Racial Segregation in Suburbs 22
Market Tests and Spatial Inequalities 23
Proposed Remedies 24
Mega-Decisions and Daily Life 36
Decisions and Small-Scale Policies 36

3. Exaggerating City Population Decline 45
Twentieth-Century Trends 46
Population and Occupied Housing Changes 48
Cities' Evolution from 1950 to 1970 49
Downtown Population Changes 50
Racial Change 51
Population and Housing in 50 States 52
Variation by Size and Region 54
Immigration 55 Beliefs and Preferences 56
Demand Increased 59

4. Housing and Cities' Prospects 63
Summary of Findings 64
The Relative Income Measure 64
Disparities between Cities and Suburbs 66
542 Cities 66
Region and Population 68
Nonstable Cities 70
White Flight? 71
Home Ownership 73
Relative Income in Six Central Cities 75
Poverty in Cities 76
Concentrated Neighborhood Poverty 77
Single-Unit Structures and Home Ownership 79
Single-Unit Structures and Relative Income 80
Small Houses, Ownership, and Relative Income 80
Condominiums 83
Housing Past and Future 85
Post-2000 Trends in Cities 85

5. Scoping Suburban Decline 92
Summary of Results 93
Suburban Dominance 93
City Decline and Metropolitan Growth 95
Ring, Sector, and Scattered Population Decline 101
Population Size in Suburbs 107
Severe Suburban Population Loss 108
Prospects for Increasing Density 108
Suburban Diversity 112
Immigrants 113
Suburban Decline in the 1960s and 1970s 114
Average Household Size, Families with Children, and the Elderly 114
High Elderly Populations 116
Average Household Size and Occupied Housing Units 117
Suburban Trends 117
Methods 118

6. Discovering Poor Suburbs 122
Summary of Findings 123
Methodology 123
Relative Income Conditions and Trends 124
Regions and Growth Matter Little 127
Spatial Patterns 128
Growing Suburbs and Metropolitan Areas 128
Population Size and Income Changes 129
City and Suburb Incomes 130
The Lowest Relative Income Suburbs 131
Poverty in Suburbs 136
Poverty in Suburban Neighborhoods 138
Income Changes in the 1980s and 1990s 142
Decline in Old and Middle-Aged Suburbs 142
Volatility in Suburbs 143
Suburban Income Change Variations 144
Metropolitan Profiles of Income Changes 147
Summary and Interpretation 159

7. Do Middle-Aged Suburbs Need to Reinvent Themselves? 169
Summary of Findings 169
Three Theories: Population, Contagion, and Age of Housing 170
Methodology 171
Describing and Explaining Income Transitions 171
Scale and Time 173
Decade of Housing Construction and Relative Income Changes 174
Factors in Differentiating Neighborhoods 178
Interpretation 187

8. Discovering Virtues of Old Neighborhoods 189
Units of Analysis 190
Relative Income and Decade of Construction 190
Neighborhood Life Cycles 191
Income Increases in Neighborhoods in the 1980s and 1990s 193
Evidence for Trickle-Down Neighborhood Change 193
Counting Census Tracts 198
Comparing the 1990s and 1980s 201
Which Old Neighborhoods Increased in Relative Income? 205
Differences among Metropolitan Areas 210
Summary of Trends 221
Impending Suburban Triumph from a 1950 Perspective 221

9. Linking Patterns, Beliefs, and Policies 231
A Policy Debate about Trickle-Down Neighborhood Change 232
Influences on Preferences 233
Conditions and Ideas Influence Beliefs and Actions 236
Consumer Preferences for Neighborhood Settings 237
Crime Rates Fell in the 1990s 238
Beliefs about Health and Motor Vehicle Safety 240
Demography Alters the Distribution of Location Preferences 241
Results Matter 242
Myths and Mega-Decisions 243

10. The Cul-de-Sac Safety Myth: Housing Markets and Settlement Patterns 248
The Issue 248
History 251
Effects of Street Networks on Safety 256

11. The Myth of Exurban Safety and Rational Location Decisions 266
Comparative Danger 267
Homicides, Violent Crime, and Traffic Fatalities 268
Low Density, Speed, and Traffic Deaths 270
Homicides by Family Members, Acquaintances, and Strangers 271
Traffic Fatality Rates in Cities, Suburbs, and Exurbs 272
Narrow Roads and Aggressive Driving 283
Awareness of Dangers 284
Misinformation, Miscalculations, and Misdirected Emotions 286
Danger of Leaving Home 287
Fear of Crime 289
Sex, Insurance, and Traffic Information 290

12. The Past and Future of Small House Neighborhoods 296
Contemporary 'Happy' Residence Beliefs 297
New House Profiles 298
Why Small House Expansion and Adaptation Is Difficult 299
Why the Suburbs' Mid-Life Crisis May Get Worse 300
Institutions and Finance 300
A Case Study of Problems, Opportunities, and Policies 301
Relative Income and Family Poverty 303
Reversal of Neighborhood Trends and Age of Housing 303
Henrico's 60 Census Tracts 305
What Happened in Small House Neighborhoods? 308
Henrico's Public Policy Responses 311
Central City Versus Suburban Prospects 312

13. Can Local Policies Make a Difference? 314
Downtown Revival Despite Sprawl 315
Charlottesville's Downtown Revival and Beyond 315
Transit-Oriented Development 317
Arlington and Alexandria 318
Middle-Class Location Decisions and Small Houses 319
Chicago's Historic Bungalows 321
Single-Unit Dwellings 322
Condominiums Increase Ownership 323
Enhancing Decentralized Decisions 325
Investment Decisions 326

14. Prospects for Stability and Revival 328
Variation and Uncertainty 329
Regionalism 330
Beliefs Relevant to Location Decisions 331
Beliefs, Roles, and Policies 332
Markets and Decentralized Decisions 334
Where Next? 336


"Lucy and Phillips continue to redefine the debate around metropolitan America. In Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs they fearlessly delve into the range of complexities, challenges, and myths and provide clear, sober advice about how cities and suburbs can remake themselves for the 21st century. Without shying away from the myriad problems these places are facing, they illustrate that there is reason to be optimistic."

—Robert Puentes
Fellow, Brookings Institution

"In this data-rich and carefully argued book, Lucy and Phillips provide new insights into how some less-studied features of suburban communities explain patterns of growth in certain suburbs and decline in others. They make a compelling case that the appeal of suburban living is based on some beliefs that are simply inaccurate and offer the hope that, by unmasking these myths, we can strengthen government's ability to create places where residents want to live."

—Carolyn T. Adams
Professor, Temple University