Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Expanding universe

Brookings demographers have been mining 2000 census data re "exurbia." To paraphrase a former U.S. president, "it depends on what you mean by exurbia."

Dr. Soojung Kim and I have been looking at employment, population and income growth throughout the U.S. counties, using the 35-year REIS file from BEA. Interestingly, the outward trends are dominant but there are cycles.

The "micropolitan" areas can be categorized as adjacent to large or small metros or nonadjacent. Their performances vary from region to region. They do best in the west -- even though counties tend to be larger and this region's micropolitan counties tend to be more remote than those in other regions.

Rural counties (those that do not qualify as core-based [micropolitan or metropolitan]) can also be grouped by whether they are adjacent or nonadjacent to any of the two core-based groups. In years when there is an outward impetus, the latter also do well. The pulses push further than anyone had thought.

Today's WSJ reports this:

"Seeding Sprawl"
October 18, 2006; Page B4

"The American "exurbs" are growing twice as fast as the overall metropolitan areas from which they sprawled, according to a new report by the Brookings Institution.

"These areas, on the far fringes of cities, still house relatively few people -- an average of about 6% of the population of 88 large U.S. metropolitan areas, as of 2000. But the exurbs' rapid growth, about 31% in terms of population during the 1990s, poses a big challenge to developers, regional planners and conservationists.

"'The question for all exurbs is are you going to remain the fringe of a metro area, or in 20 years are you going to be a conventional suburb, which means you will lose more and more rural land and the congestion will be worse,' says Alan Berube, the study's head author.

"The Brookings study defines exurbs as communities with relatively low housing density where at least 20% of workers commute to jobs in urban areas. In cities such as Cleveland and Detroit, the exurbs have become havens for wealthier people escaping more impoverished cities and inner suburbs. In higher-priced Boston, New York, the San Francisco Bay area and Washington, D.C., residents are being forced farther outside cities because they can't afford housing.

"In the long run, Mr. Berube says it will be less expensive to encourage development nearer the center of a metro area because communities won't need to spend money creating infrastructure to support residents on the fringes. But residents' conflicted views complicate matters, he adds. "People want a single-family home and a bunch of bedrooms, but at the same time they want to be able to walk to things and commute less than 45 minutes each way.