People Are Migrating out from Large Cities

Counties closest to population and employment centers will experience higher levels of land development. Thus, the transition from agricultural uses to suburban and urban uses is very visible and, as in all social transformations, often becomes a source of conflict in local communities.

As Michigan residents have moved to rural and suburban counties, densities have also increased (see Chart 3). In 1970, suburban counties averaged 2.3 acres per person. By 1995, suburban counties averaged 1.85 acres per person, a 19.6% decrease. Statewide, the number of acres per person fell just 7% to 4.13 acres per person. This suggests that increased population growth is also changing the attitudes and "feel" of some rural communities. As cities grow and more residents commute outside their city of residence to work, the rural atmosphere gives way to the concerns of family-oriented suburbanites. These increasing densities imply a diversification of the local economy as residential and commercial uses become more prevalent in the local real estate market and economy.

These shifts in population reveal another important aspect of the politics and economics of growth in Michigan. Big city counties — such as Calhoun, Genesee, Ingham, and Wayne — lost population, reducing their overall density. A further look inside these counties reveals that a substantial portion of the population loss occurred in the big cities themselves.

Some analysts have interpreted the growth of suburban areas as the result of a "beggar-thy-neighbor" effect where one suburb’s growth is a function of the central city’s decline. However, this is not necessarily the case. While central city counties lost population, the data also show that surrounding collar counties added more people than their more populous neighbors lost. But the problems of central cities are far more complex than this criticism of suburbanization suggests. (Please see Part VI, "The Flight from the Big Cities," on page 35 for a discussion of the particular problems facing large Michigan cities such as Detroit.)

In the end, keeping people from moving away from the cities by restricting suburban growth will not address the issues that drive them out of the cities in the first place, any more than the Berlin Wall solved the problems of East Germany’s repressive socialist economy.