The Environmental Protection Agency released a report today examining whether there has been a fundamental shift away from suburban residential construction to urban residential. Through studying residential building permits in the 50 largest metropolitan areas, the EPA found that there have been significant shifts from the 'burbs back to the city in over half of them. The center-city core saw its share of residential construction double in 15 metro regions, and this trend has increased dramatically over the past five years. While a large share of home construction still takes place in the "urban fringe," the foreclosure crisis seems to be effectively pushing more people out of the suburbs.
At least until the housing crunch, minorities had been increasingly ending up in the suburbs, which at least seems to be making progressive electoral political change in those areas. As Nate Silver pointed out in Esquire a couple of months ago, President Obama didn't need the suburban vote to win the election, given his command of urban votes, but he won it anyway. Silver stated that this may have owed to the fact that "suburban voters are starting to look -- and behave -- like their urban brethren," noting from a National Center for Suburban Studies poll that 20 percent of suburban voters were not white, and 44 percent lived in racially mixed neighborhoods.
According to Andrew Weise, author of Places of Their Own, African American Suburbanization in the Twentieth Century, the number of African Americans who fled to the suburbs between 1960 and 2000 -- nine million -- was more than the number of black Americans who fled to Northern urban centers during the Great Migration period of the early- to mid-20th century. A Brookings study from 2002 found that from 1980 to 2000, 54 percent of Latino-Americans ended up living in the suburbs, while about a third of all African-American households, and almost half of all Asian and "other minority" households were in the suburbs. For the volumes of minorities who lost suburban homes in the foreclosure fiasco, it remains to be seen if most of them will end up back in the city.
From the EPA report, it was found that cities like Atlanta and Washington D.C., which, have numerous predominantly non-white suburbs, have remarkably increased their central city residential construction loads -- in Atlanta as much as 20 percent. In New York City, the increase of residential construction permits in the center city skyrocketed over 50 percent in 2007 alone. This could, in effect, be seen as the U.S. getting closer to the end of sprawl, even as minorities continue to locate (or be displaced) to the suburbs. It could also mean that Republicans' traditional electoral holds on previously WASPy, non-urban districts will continue getting more slippery.
-- Brentin Mock