Did Highways Cause Suburbanization?
Between 1950 and 1990, while the population of U.S. metropolitan areas grew 72%, the central cities shrank by 17%. Factors that could account for central cities’ population decline include faster commutes, population sorting due to racial and social preferences and perceived increases in city crimes.
A 2007 Brown University paper published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, “Did Highways Cause Suburbanization?” examines the extent to which highways can explain different rates of suburbanization across decades within U.S. metropolitan areas. The paper’s author calculates that:
- Had the interstate highway system not been built, aggregate central city population would have grown by about 8% (instead of declining by 17%) between 1950 and 1990.
- Central city population would have increased by an additional 3% had limited-access highways (that are not part of the interstate system) not been built.
- The decline in aggregate central city population was considerably more pronounced in inland central cities.
Tags: cars, mass transit, infrastructure
Note to instructor: The suggested assignments are designed for flexibility. They can be used in whole or part and can be adapted to a particular task -- for example, the newswriting assignments could be applied to the writing of the headline, the lead, the nut graph or the full story. Material from the assignments could also be combined with other material, for example, in the writing of a background, feature or local-angle story.
Read the Brown University study titled "Did Highways Cause Suburbanization?"
- Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
- Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
- Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)
- Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
- Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
- Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
- Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.