Study: Sprawl Damages Economic Mobility

April 11, 2014

A new report from Smart Growth America and the University of Utah’s Metropolitan Urban Center finds that living in sprawling metropolitan areas has major repercussions on a poor child’s chances of moving up the economic ladder as they enter adulthood.

Researchers found that living in more compact and connected metro areas can help low-income families, surmising that better access to economic opportunity and transportation can help them improve their situation.

“A child [in a low-sprawl area] born in the bottom 20 percent of the income scale has a better chance of rising to the top 20 percent of the income scale by the age of 30,” said Reid Ewing, a professor of city and metropolitan planning at the University of Utah and the lead researcher on the report. “My explanation at this point is that a low-income person living in a very compact area has a much better access to jobs.”

The report looked both at how compact a metro area is as well as how well-connected homes are with job centers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, New York and San Francisco took the top prizes in terms of combating sprawl in large metro areas. The rankings for the medium metro areas were more revealing.

The top six most compact, connected medium metro areas are:

  1. Madison, Wis.
  2. Allentown/Bethlehem/Easton, Pa./N.J.
  3. Bridgeport/Stamford/Norwalk, Conn.
  4. Stockton, Calif.
  5. New Haven/Milford, Conn.
  6. Scranton/Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

By contrast, the most sprawling medium metro areas are:

  1. Little Rock/North Little Rock/Conway, Ark.
  2. Durham/Chapel Hill, N.C.
  3. Jackson, Miss.
  4. Knoxville, Tenn.
  5. Columbia, S.C.
  6. Chattanooga, Tenn./Ga.

Source: "Suburban sprawl hurts social mobility," Aljazeera America (April 2, 2014)

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