Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Suburban factoids

Here's a list of factoids I accumulated about suburbia during the research for my forthcoming book.

  • More people live in suburbs than in cities and small towns combined.

  • Americans are more likely to work in a suburb, shop in a suburb, and attend recreational events in a suburb than in central cities or rural towns.

  • Suburbia is not just families with kids: According to the 2000 census, only 27 percent of suburban households were married couples with kids, outnumbered by young singles and the elderly living alone.

  • Suburbia is diverse: The majority of Asian Americans, half of Hispanics and 40 percent of African Americans live in the suburbs. More new immigrants locate in suburbs than in cities.

  • Most suburban commuting is not from suburb to city, but from suburb to suburb.

  • The average suburban household generates thirteen car trips a day.

  • The average American spends 1 hour, 41 minutes in their car each day—a total of more than three weeks a year.

  • Each additional ten minutes in daily commuting time reduces community involvement by ten percent.

  • The more spread out a suburb, the higher the rates of obesity, high-blood pressure and weight-related chronic illnesses, because we drive more and walk less.

  • Big-box stores and national chains return only 13-14% of their dollars to the local community, while locally owned independent stores recirculate 45-58% to the local community.

  • Thirty years ago Americans had friends over to their homes 15 times a year; today the figure is half that—just once every month and a half.


Craver Vii said...

13 car trips a day?! Such busy-ness! That seems like a high average. Are we accomplishing a lot, or is this just ADHD on wheels?

Just this morning, I was listening to friends talk about stuff they regularly watch on TV. I don't have any regular shows that I watch; there's just no time. I'm trying to get my 13 car trips in for the day.

Just kidding. I found a good church located one mile from home, and I will often go by bike and sometimes walk.

I enjoy walking and biking, but I also enjoy driving. I lived in Chicago (not Chicagoland, but Chicago proper) until 3 years ago. I absolutely hated driving anywhere; it's too congested. I remember looking at the speed limit signs and wishing I could at least go half that fast.

ljkim said...

Hi Al,

I agree that suburbs don't get the attention they deserve in the public consciousness - in speaking to a US audience, one really needs to look at the issues of the suburbs and not just inner cities.

But that being said, I think a couple of the factoids are (unintentionally) misleading... More people do live in suburbs in the US than in cities and rural areas combined, but that makes it sound like it's growing... Suburbs are actually shrinking percentage-wise in the population area.

The urban population of just the top 100 cities in the US has increased by over 600% (from 1990-2000) while the national population (during the same period) increased less than 14%.

Not only that but in this decade nearly half the world's population can be found in urban areas as opposed to rural (it's harder to define suburb outside the US).

The suburbs are significant especially in this telecommuting age and for certain demographics - and mark a shift in community involvement and even what that means... But part of what shapes the suburbs is how removed it is becoming from the rest of the world.

Al Hsu said...

ljkim - Actually, suburban/exurban population is not shrinking. In terms of both percentage as well as raw numbers, suburbs have grown. A hundred years ago, America was basically half urban and half rural, and what little suburban areas existed were counted within cities. By 1950, about a quarter of the population lived in suburbs distinct from the cities. By 2000, over half are in suburbia. While it's true that overall cities and suburbs have both been growing, statistics suggest that some cities have plateaued while suburbs are booming. For example, over the last decade the city of Atlanta grew by just 23,000 people, while the surrounding suburbs grew by 1.1 million.

But it's true that the world is urbanizing, both domestically and globally. Several trends I document in the book are the suburbanization of cities and the urbanization of suburbs. If anything, suburbanization and exurban growth are redefining how we understand cities. Rather than pitting cities against suburbs, I argue for understanding cities and suburbs as part of an organic, interdependent metropolitan whole. As we look toward a metropolitan future, care for the city will mean care for the suburbs and vice versa.

By the way, I clicked through to your site for your church plant. Very cool. I was actually born in Queens, in Elmhurst. Best wishes to you in your work!

ljkim said...

Hi Al,

Greetings from Queens! On second thought I think you're right. The urban numbers I was referring to were for urban metro areas that include nearby suburbs.

I agree with what you're saying about the relationship between cities and suburbs. God speed on your work!