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. 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. The key qualities for movers include larger houses, more housing diversity,
enough land to provide private yards for their children, safe neighborhoods, and high
From the research and analysis in this study, we may make three general observations
about land use and suburbanization in Michigan:
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.
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.
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.