This article in New Geography challenges the idea that suburbs sprouted around cities because of the flight from inner-cities. Instead, it argues that what we really have, in most cases, is an exodus from rural areas to the suburbs, by default creating more density. Here is an excerpt:
Most suburban growth is not the result of declining core city populations, but is rather a consequence of people moving from rural areas and small towns to the major metropolitan areas. It is the appeal of large metropolitan places that drives suburban growth.
In a few cases, both the core city losses were greater than the suburban gains, such as in Pittsburgh, Liverpool and Manchester. In these cases, it is fair to attribute all of the suburban gains to core city losses.
Unlike the cases above, however, most core cities gained population. This includes all in Canada, Australia and New Zealand and many in the United States. As a result, none of the suburban growth in the corresponding metropolitan areas can be attributed to an exodus from the city, because there, on balance, was no exodus.
Suburbanization is often characterized as reducing densities, but in fact it has done just the opposite. Most suburbanites come from smaller places; they may prefer suburbs because they are less dense, safer, or simply more manageable than the core cities. But they are also, almost invariably, more dense than where they lived before. Suburbanization is thus a densifying dynamic, albeit one that is less dramatic than preferred by many planners and architects.
In this sense, suburbs have to be seen not as the enemies of the city, as just a modern expression of urbanization. They are neither the enemies of the city, nor are their residents likely to move “back” there. You cannot move back to some place you did not come from.
What do you all think? Does this article and theory hold water?