Not even a Recession can Stop Sprawl

Oct 11, 2012 | Georgia Tech

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Even during the greatest economic downturn in the U.S. since the Great Depression, development still trended toward urban sprawl according to recent findings from a 2012 Georgia Tech applied research paper.  In “A Changing Paradigm? Measuring Urban Decentralization through the Great Recession,” Laura Schultz (MCRP ’12) challenges the popular belief that cities reversed the trend of decentralization in the wake of the housing bubble burst.

“While the growth of urban centers has been studied from many angles, no one had looked specifically at the recession, a unique period of time in the U.S. housing market which made this project very appealing to me,” says Schultz about her multi-city study.

Schultz assessed residential development trends during the past decade by measuring how population, housing, vacancy, and occupancy rates fared in 12 major US cities. Dan Immergluck, a professor of housing and real estate markets at Georgia Tech, states that Schultz’ findings are highly significant because “[T]hey call into question the assertions made by some popular urban observers that the housing crisis has put an end to sprawl and a ‘rationalization’ of metropolitan investment patterns.”

Schultz found that decentralization continued in all 12 cities studied, in some cases demonstrating an overall trend reversal from centralization to decentralization or even accelerated decentralization rates. According to Immergluck, these patterns of sprawl continued after the onset of the economic crisis even in “cities that had shown some signs of more compact development trends before the crisis hit.” Schultz’s research sheds new light on current housing trends and offers significant evidence that cities are continuing to expand outward, even in the midst of a great financial crisis.

Laura Schultz is a 2012 graduate of the Georgia Tech’s School of City and Regional Planning and currently works as an Economic Development Associate at Hudson Square Connection in New York, NY.