Three Observations about Land Use and Suburbanization in Michigan

Few opponents of suburbanization recognize that population migration out from the city is a historical trend, dating back centuries, and that when households move they improve their standard of living. In the early 1960s, 61% of suburbanites in Cleveland said they had moved out of the central city to live in a cleaner and healthier community.[109] In the 1990s, planning professors David Varady and Jeffrey Raffel found that people moved to the suburbs because those communities offered living environments better suited for raising families.[110] The key qualities for movers include larger houses, more housing diversity, enough land to provide private yards for their children, safe neighborhoods, and high quality schools.

From the research and analysis in this study, we may make three general observations about land use and suburbanization in Michigan:

  1. Suburbanization is a local issue. Most of Michigan remains rural in character and even counties with large suburban populations have substantial undeveloped land and cropland available. More than 41% of the state’s remaining farmland is encumbered by a farmland development agreement that prevents its development in exchange for tax credits. There is little evidence to support the need for a statewide policy to preserve farmland or slow urbanization.

  2. Change is an inevitable part of land development. People often fear change for a variety of reasons. Peoples’ attempts to grapple with these fears is one of the primary factors driving the political pressure to stop suburban development.

  3. Suburbanization reflects voluntary choices made by people. Every day, families make decisions about their housing and which community they wish to live in. Suburbanization is the result of their decisions and also the willingness of farmers and other landowners to voluntarily sell the land they own for the purposes of further development.

These important facts about the causes of suburbanization are important to the public debate over urban policy. Media reports that focus on "sprawl" suggest that suburbanization should be contained or even stopped. Yet few news reports take the time to digest the issue and objectively assess the benefits that suburbanization provides for Michigan families, individual communities, and the state as a whole.

Economic development programs and strategies intended to pick economic "winners and losers" inevitably disrupt the smooth functioning of markets and create unfair advantages for some businesses at the expense of others.

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