Cities to Suburbs: Eat My Dust

American cities are coming back strong. The suburbs still maintain an edge when measured by per capita income and the median value of owner-occupied housing. But after decades of relative decline, the 22 cities studied by University of Virginia professors William H. Lucy and David L. Phillips held their own in the 1990s and regained some lost ground in the first half of the 2000s decade.

Lucy and Phillips compared 22 cities with populations of 250,000 or more with surrounding jurisdictions within their Metropolitan Statistical Areas. Drawing upon American Community Survey data, they found that per capita income rose from 86 percent of the MSA average in 2000 to 89 percent by 2004. The median value of owner-occupied housing increased from 83.7 percent of the MSA average to 86.4 percent over the same four-year period.

What’s happening? In a reversal of white flight/middle class flight, affluent households are moving back into the city and rehabilitating the housing stock. At the same time, lower-income households are leaking into surrounding counties and occupying the single-family houses, tiny by today’s standards, built in the 1950s and 1960s.

Lucy and Phillips conclude: “Rearrangement of the income geography of cities and suburbs presents new opportunities and challenges for public policy makers. Alleviation of effects of concentrated poverty and depleted city government treasuries remain daunting challenges. But now, market forces may contribute to reducing these problems rather than compounding them.”


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6 responses to “Cities to Suburbs: Eat My Dust”

  1. Ray Hyde Avatar

    That pretty much covers what’s been happening around my, older, Alexandria suburb. Foreigners of various types have bought up some of the older and smaller homes in the neighborhood.

    Except that several of them have now been supersized.

  2. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    Wrote this but didn’t come through – yet.

    Cities don’t have depleted treasuries in Virginia

    Market forces don’t create poverty – today. Market forces enable folks to get out of poverty. Social pathologies create poverty and keep folks there.

  3. Tugboat Phil Avatar
    Tugboat Phil

    Let’s give the credit, where it’s due. I work for a company that services the mortgage industry. I’m the one that goes into the vacant crack houses and evaluates them for either demo or rehab. I’m the one that takes possession for the bank, at the eviction. I’ve seen the belly of the beast, in close detail, from D.C. to Richmond, to Norfolk, Portsmouth & Newport News. I have watched neighborhoods go all the way down and then begin to come back.

    It’s a really good feeling to see once beautiful houses, that have been run almost all the way down, to get a second chance to become a home. But before we attribute the comeback to “affluent families,” I have seen something different. I keep no statistics, but more times than not the rehab of large houses in run down areas are done by gay couples. Argue with me if you will, but unless you’ve spent more time in “cracktown” than me, you’re speaking to deaf ears. I am not a supporter of gay rights, as I am not convinced that they are born that way. But gay men will move into a neighborhood that would scare off the average family.

  4. Tugboat Phil Avatar
    Tugboat Phil

    After reading my rant, my wife pointed out that I should read things before I comment. She pointed out to me that the term used was affluent “households.” It has been documented that gay men are quite affluent as a demographic, thus they would be included in that comment.

    I’ll sit quietly with my foot in my mouth for the rest of the day.

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Tugboat, Don’t start chewing on your shoe leather yet. There there are different levels of affluence. I’ve renovated two houses in Church Hill. I put a lot of sweat equity into the first, and a little sweat equity into the second. Clearly, I was more “affluent” than many of the residents (including those in the crack house at the end of the block). But I wasn’t nearly as affluent as those who came later. It’s the second wave — the people who settle into neighborhoods that the gentrifiers have revivified — who account for the big bucks.

    You’re also right that a disproportionate number of gentrifiers are gay. Gay couples don’t have children, so they tend to have a lot more disposable income. They also feel comfortable making a long-term commitment to a city neighborhood because they’re not thinking that they’ll have children one day and move to the ‘burbs where the schools are better.

  6. Ray Hyde Avatar

    And schools are the big enchilada. If cities don’t have depleted treasuries yet, some will by the time they have schools good enough to prevent flight to the suburbs.

    I don’t know that VA cities are so bad off, as JAB points out, but the annual display of deteriorating schools in the District that are getting the rush facelift so they can open shows only a little of how much needs to be done.

    Somewhere out there is a blog where thenewurban pioneers recount their experiences in rehabbing old homes, getting to know the neighbors, dealing with the government, etc. There are good stories and bad, but the bad ones are really bad.

    I like fixing up old stuff, I think of it as advanced recycling. But reading those stories, well, I’m glad someone else is taking on those jobs. Based on some of the comments, I assume that a number of them are gay couples.

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