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The City Café

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What has spurred the incredible growth in American suburbs over the last few decades? A Fannie Mae Foundation commissioned survey (of urban scholars) identified these top five contributing factors:

1. The 1956 Interstate Highway Act and the dominance of the automobile
2. Federal Housing Administration mortgage financing and subdivision regulation
3. Deindustrialization of central cities
4. Urban renewal: downtown redevelopment and public housing projects (1949 Housing Act)
5. Levittown (the mass-produced suburban tract house)

You can read the full paper here: The American Metropolis at Century’s End

I bring this topic up in light of a current debate on the Economist’s Free Exchange blog. Monday there was an interesting post titled the Density of Nations this post argued: America systematically starved and disassembled its public transportation and rail infrastructure and spent rather extravagantly on highways, both within and between cities. While Europeans also increased their spending on roadways, they nonetheless maintained strong national commitments to rail and public transit. Megan McArdle of the Atlantic disagrees with some of this reasoning, you can read here opinion here.

So what is the answer? Why are European cities more dense? I’m inclined to think that it has more to the American obsession with the status of a large home, a large yard, and a two car garage–which is usually pursued with suburban property.

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