VI. The Flight from the Big Cities

The potential costs of suburbanization are, of course, broader than farmland loss and rising infrastructure costs. The decentralization of people and jobs also affects existing communities and the quality of life for residents in old and new places. Low-density suburban development increases automobile "dependence" as residents must drive further to shop, work, and otherwise meet their needs. This dependence in turn increases demand for more roads and also increases pollution. Both of these arguments are suspect, however, since they both ignore other complicating elements.

Urban development and redevelopment is influenced by a number of "push" and "pull" factors. Pull factors are a particular community’s characteristics that attract people to live in it. The possibility of a larger house on a plot of land might attract, or "pull," someone from a cramped city dwelling to a suburb or rural town. The proximity to cultural and entertainment events such as professional sports or the opera might pull others into downtown areas. Providing the kinds of neighborhoods and housing opportunities people want is critical for developing, redeveloping, and rejuvenating cities of all sizes. Large cities, for example, have a number of features that attract businesses and people: roads, cultural activities, diverse and inexpensive housing opportunities, and easy access to mass transit.

Equally important, however, are the push factors. Many cities suffer from poorly functioning school systems, high tax rates, anti-competitive regulations, and old and deteriorating housing stock. Cities may upgrade their housing stock, improve transit opportunities and decorate their downtowns with new sports stadiums and casinos, but if they do not address such basic push factors as poor schools, high taxes and crime, they will continue to stagnate and decline.