Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Cities, suburbs, exurbs and the price of gas

There are more and more speculations on what the higher price of gasoline means for the shape of cities and suburbs. My new colleague Richard Green posted a discussion on the topic at his blog a couple of days ago. The WSJ ran a piece on the same question yesterday ("Suburbs a Mile Too Far for Some ... Demographic Changes, High Gasoline Prices May Hasten Demand for Urban Living"; WSJ's #1 emailed as of this moment).

One of the places to find the history of inflation-adjusted petroleum prices is in my favorite new Encyclopedia (page 374, by Sue Anne Batey Blackman and William Baumol).

Harry Richardson and Soojung Kim and I presented a conference paper earlier this year where we looked at the cycles of suburbanization-exurbanization since 1969. Our Figures 2a-2g and Tables 3-4 and 3-5 show the "rural renaissance" of the early 70s and how that reversed as the price of gasoline spiked in the early 1980s. But the following cycles of reversal of reversal and so forth did not track gasoline prices. The largest metros came back again in the late 1990s when gas prices were very low. The suburbanization-exurbanization-ruralization cycles that we found tracked the ebb and flow of crime rates better than gasoline prices.

The caveat is that our data were from the BEAs REIS file which is county-level and miss any changes below that level.