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Thread: City-dominant vs. suburb-dominant metro areas

  1. #1
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    City-dominant vs. suburb-dominant metro areas

    For our purposes, let's define a "city-dominant" metropolitan area as one in which the place of highest residential/commercial-services/cultural desirability is the higher-density area of the central city. A "suburb-dominant" metropolitan area, on the other hand, will be one in which the place of highest residential/commercial-services/cultural desirability is in an area of lower density, usually not in the central city.

    Here's my list of which metros fall under which category. Feel free to add, discuss, and debate:

    "City-dominant":
    New York, NY
    Chicago, IL
    Philadelphia, PA
    Boston, MA
    Montreal, QC
    Minneapolis-St. Paul, MN
    Denver, CO
    Seattle, WA
    Portland, OR
    Salt Lake City, UT
    Baltimore, MD
    Calgary, AB
    Ottawa, ON
    Pittsburgh, PA
    New Orleans, LA
    Austin, TX

    "Suburb-dominant":
    Detroit, MI
    Los Angeles-Orange County, CA
    San Diego, CA
    West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, FL
    Phoenix, AZ
    Orlando, FL
    Las Vegas, NV
    St. Louis, MO

    Mixed:
    Tucson, AZ
    Washington, DC
    Houston, TX
    Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
    Miami, FL
    Hartford, CT
    Quebec, QC
    Toronto, ON
    Vancouver, BC
    Atlanta, GA
    Memphis, TN
    Indianapolis, IN
    Cleveland, OH
    Nashville, TN
    San Francisco Bay Area, CA
    Victoria, BC

    Well, the pattern seems to be pretty obvious, showing that cities whose development occurred before the mass-production of the automobile remain "city-dominant," while those that boomed after the introduction of the automobile became "suburb-dominant." "Mixed" cities seem to be largely established Sunbelt places with continued population increase or regional growth centers, such as Québec, Toronto, or Cleveland.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian Emeritus Bear Up North's avatar
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    Here's my take on Toledo, OH.....

    Toledo is in the "mixed' listing. Not because of a strong downtown area or a vibrant "central" core. But rather because Toledo has very few suburbs, so the edges of Toledo, still within the corporate limits, have experienced that desirability.

    Bear Way Past The Edge
    Occupy Cyburbia!

  3. #3
    Quote Originally posted by Bear Up North
    Here's my take on Toledo, OH.....

    Toledo is in the "mixed' listing. Not because of a strong downtown area or a vibrant "central" core. But rather because Toledo has very few suburbs, so the edges of Toledo, still within the corporate limits, have experienced that desirability.

    Bear Way Past The Edge
    I would agree with the Bear's take on this, although with each passing year the city is becoming less dominant as the core and second tier neighborhoods continue to weaken and the suburbs continue to grow unregulated. I predict that within 15 years, Toledo will be suburb-dominant, if not an outright stranglehold.

  4. #4
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
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    If San Diego is a suburb dominant city, then move Atlanta out of mixed. There is more activity in San Diego's downtown comparable to size than Atlanta's. Though LaJolla & Mission Valley are major cultural & economic centers for San Diego - at least from my visits - I didn' pick up those areas dominating over downtown as much as Atlanta's suburbs dominate over Downtown (or even to be fair to Atlanta, including Midtown). Over half of all jobs are outside the city limits - Perimeter, Cumberland, Gwinnett Center - Lawrenceville, North Point - south Forsyth, & Buckhead (edge city within the city limits) are just a few of the numerous suburban business centers.

    I don't think it neccessarily means Atlanta's downtown is doomed, but it is evolving away from a traditional business purpose. Of course there are other reasons you use - and though there is interest in high density residential in Midtown & Downtown - Downtown San Diego isn't doing too badly either.

    My point, isn't to boost San Diego - but just comparing Atlanta with a suburb-dominant city as you listed. Based on these comparisons, Atlanta could or should be included with San Diego. But maybe I'm missing the point, certainly Dallas, Houston & Miami could be included in suburb dominant cities.

    Or maybe my OCD is acting up

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jordanb's avatar
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    You can't hardly make up your own arbitrary list with no methodology and then draw conclusions from it.

    "Suburbs" are very rare things in America today. By that I mean the 1890s idea of a suburb: a small bedroom community surrounded by rural land outside of a city, but within easy commuting distance.

    What we refer to as "suburbs" today are in every way urban pieces of a functioning city, but many people are stuck on the idea that highly-centralized cities built around public transit are somehow urban and cities that have the exact same function that are built de-centralized around automobiles are still somehow suburban.

    Of course, it was very popular to build cities around cars after WWII because people then believed that they'd solve all of the real and perceived problems with the cities of the day (even Mumford fell into the trap of seeing nearly all of the urban ills as being caused by high population density). Now, people are beginning to understand that cars cause their own problems and interest in repopulating our old transit-based cities and building new ones is growing.

  6. #6

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    I would have phrased his first sentence more tactfully, but I think jordanb nails it pretty well. Even New York City is surrounded by miles and miles of suburban business centers, which given the steady decampment of Fortune 500 (and now financial services industries) to the suburban centers (and overseas) can hardly be seen as a purely "City-dominated" metropolitan area.

    And, I agree that San Diego should be mixed.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian nuovorecord's avatar
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    Good thread. I think I would have moved Calgary to the "mixed" list and Vancouver to the "Central City-dominated" list, based on my numerous visits to both cities. Calgary is surrounded by dozens and dozens of subdivisions, linked by multi-lane roads. It's central city is pretty functional, but nowhere near Vancouver levels of vibrancy. Vancouver's central city is far more alive and vital. Even though Vancouver is the anchor of a large metro area, the surrounding cities (Surrey, Richmond, New Westminster, Langley, North Vancouver, etc.) still retain some semblance of community and "town center" feel. Plus, it's taken a very deliberate stand against building freeways though its central core, resulting in auto traffic levels remaining fairly static over the past twenty years while bike and pedestrian traffic levels have seen a dramatic increase. Calgary has none of that. It's just a sprawling monolith gobbling up hectares of Albertan farmland. However, its light rail system is powered by a wind farm, and they have a darn good hockey team, so that's pretty cool!
    Last edited by nuovorecord; 30 Aug 2004 at 5:46 PM. Reason: Clarification
    "There's nothing wrong with America that can't be fixed by what's right with America." - Bill Clinton.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nuovorecord
    Good thread. I think I would have moved Calgary to the "mixed" list and Vancouver to the "Central City-dominated" list, based on my numerous visits to both cities.
    I was about to say the same thing, before I read your post.

    Calgary is becoming more and more suburb driven as the area expands... when I drive in from the north, I can't believe the sprawl I see there these days (and all of the services that are following the housing out into the suburbs). It used to be such a beautiful city.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    Well, here are my thoughts on Vancouver being "mixed":

    Vancouver has a very strong pedestrian-centered urban core, extensive public transit, and all the other great things that make it consistently rise to the top of systematic "livability," and thus bears a stronger resemblance to cities in the "central-city dominant" category such as Montreal or Minneapolis. However, I see it as a larger, more complex version of another Canadian metropolis, Québec, QC, in that it has multiple (somewhat specialized) centers, one of which is the old central city. In Québec, tourist shops, restaurants, and bars dominate one of the centers, Vieux-Québec, provincial government offices and major businesses (banks, commercial real-estate agents, corporate headquarters) are in the adjacent Centre-Ville, a more North American-looking downtown with gridded streets and skyscrapers. The arrondissement of Sainte-Foy (formerly an independent city) is six miles of mostly older, upscale homes and apartment buildings west of Vieux-Québec. Along Boulevard Laurier are more banks and corporate headquarters in skyscrapers, combined with convention hotels and megamalls. Sainte-Foy resembles a Canadian Schaumburg (although it is relatively large in size when compared to the downtown core and thus ranks as an equal center, as opposed to Schaumburg, which runs a distant second to Chicago in terms of importance in the metropolitan area. Vancouver's core is indeed a full-featured downtown, but like in Québec, the downtown competes with several suburban centers: Burnaby for office complexes and major retail (the Metrotown complexes offer much of the same retail of downtown's Robson Street, although Robson Street does get all the tourist trade). Richmond, south of downtown, is arguably as important or more important to Vancouver's large Asian community as the "traditional" downtown.

    I don't know much about Calgary (and thus probably should have known better than to include it on the list) but it has always seemed to me that Calgary's suburbs, while remaining mostly in the city limits, house mostly residential subdivisions and regional shopping centers, while corporate headquarters, banks, and office parks cluster in the central city.

  10. #10

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    Quote Originally posted by jordanb
    You can't hardly make up your own arbitrary list with no methodology and then draw conclusions from it.
    There are maybe some differences that I would have with the list, but
    jordanb raises a good point here. Some sort of methodology would help make the distinctions clearer.

    If you were to establish a way of quantifying these metro areas along these lines, you might look at the amount of commercial/office building square footage within central cities vs. the amount in the suburbs. Then you could draw some conclusions.

  11. #11
    Member Miko's avatar
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    I'm in the JordanB camp -- the list is completely subjective. It all hangs on who is doing the "desiring" that makes a place desirable. Take the NY metro area, with which I am most familiar. The city itself isn't necessarily the most "desirable" location in that region for every individual. To some it is. But to many, including the very well-heeled of Rumson and Navesink, who want to live near the ocean in NJ and enjoy a more relaxed pace, the city is where you go to make the money, but the outlying regions are where you want to live -- so the suburbs are really more 'desirable'. On the other hand, if you're a new immigrant looking for the best chance to make a lot of money fast, then the city is more desirable by sheer dint of population density. If you're a recent college graduate working in finance or fashion and looking for the rush and thrill of paying $2000/mo to live in a walk-in closet, then the city is desirable. If you're a married couple with young children who would like to see some of that $2000 go to something else and maybe give your kids each your own room, the city is then less desirable.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally posted by BKM
    I would have phrased his first sentence more tactfully, but I think jordanb nails it pretty well. Even New York City is surrounded by miles and miles of suburban business centers, which given the steady decampment of Fortune 500 (and now financial services industries) to the suburban centers (and overseas) can hardly be seen as a purely "City-dominated" metropolitan area.
    I would consider it as a city-dominated metro area, definitely. If any city in the country is city-dominated, New York is. As opposed to other cities, many people go into the city proper for entertainment. Also, the highest concentration of good restaurants and cultural places is in the city proper. The center of the city is where many of the people I know want to live, also. I don't have any statistics to prove this, but trust me, it is "city-dominated".

  13. #13

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    Quote Originally posted by Miko
    I'm in the JordanB camp -- the list is completely subjective..
    Off Topic: Portsmouth is a fantastic city, Miko. Good choice of residence!!

  14. #14
    24,000 people live in Downtown San Diego, The city of San Diego has 1,223,400 people. If you want to buy a condo downtown get on a waiting list.

    Atlanta's numbers I don't know.

  15. #15
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by The Irish One
    24,000 people live in Downtown San Diego, The city of San Diego has 1,223,400 people. If you want to buy a condo downtown get on a waiting list.

    Atlanta's numbers I don't know.
    Atlanta does have a surpisingly large downtown resident population - rougly 30,000. But the big difference was how well the residential component is mixed into downtown San Diego - you can't really tell in downtown Atlanta.

    Anyways, as many lists are - yes it's very subjective. But they are fun...

  16. #16
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    pete-rock:
    Thanks for helping me out as far as a suggestion for taking this project further...I'm hoping to do a more "scientific" treatment of it once I get to grad school. Right now this is just a list based on speculation, meant for discussion and debate. And based on what I've heard in this thread, I think I'll move San Diego back into the "mixed" category. My mistake.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Seabishop's avatar
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    No one is arguing St. Louis. Is it really that suburb-dominated?

  18. #18
    Suspended Bad Email Address teshadoh's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by drucee
    pete-rock:
    Thanks for helping me out as far as a suggestion for taking this project further...I'm hoping to do a more "scientific" treatment of it once I get to grad school. Right now this is just a list based on speculation, meant for discussion and debate. And based on what I've heard in this thread, I think I'll move San Diego back into the "mixed" category. My mistake.
    My advice - start off with a methodology first rather than speculation. Otherwise, you would be merely making an attempt at proving your hypothesis rather than finding unbiased data.

  19. #19
    But the big difference was how well the residential component is mixed into downtown San Diego - you can't really tell in downtown Atlanta.
    Not trying to beat a dead horse, just making some observations.
    That's a great point. The Downtown is mostly surrounded by residential with the exception of the east side (10th Ave. exit down to the baseball park.) Of course all of that is rapidly changing, in as soon as 10-15 years Downtown San Diego could have 150,000 people -hopefully more
    And then there is the http://www.sannet.gov/cityofvillages/index.shtml which if done correctly will create seven? urban centers, building up and getting public transportation in the mix.

  20. #20
    Member Miko's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Crevano
    As opposed to other cities, many people go into the city proper for entertainment..
    That's true of almost every city I have ever visited. Again, greater population density often does create more in the way of cultural opportunities, encouraging people to spend an evening or a day shopping in a city center (unless, as with Detroit, it is depressed). But having grown up in the central NJ area (where we would passsionately NOT have said we were 'dominated' by NYC!), and being extremely familiar with New York itself from several years residing there and because many of my friends still live there, I can also attest to the fact that people travel FROM the city proper for entertainment as well -- to see it, just try getting to the Jersey shore from Manhattan on a summer Saturday. Try going to a concert or sporting event at the Meadowlands. Try getting a table for dinner in Hoboken on a Friday night. Try shopping at IKEA in Elizabeth on a December weekend. All around you? New Yorkers making use of the surrounding metro area.

    Quote Originally posted by Crevano
    The center of the city is where many of the people I know want to live, also. I don't have any statistics to prove this, but trust me, it is "city-dominated".
    Remember, a strong argument can't be based on just "people you know" -- that's what's called 'anecdotal evidence' and it doesn't get the discussion anywhere. I know people who want to live there, too, and do, and I also know a lot of people who didn't want to live there and left, and people who live near there but never wanted to live there. Those choices have a lot to do with demographics and individual inclination.

    I also lived in Philadelphia for 3 years, which was proposed as "city-dominant". Now Philadelphia does have a great center city, but the suburbs there are particularly isolated from Center City (few train/bus lines) and very, very far-flung. The Phila. suburbs often have their own mini-downtowns with complete services, business/commercial activity, and attractions. They're very self-sufficient municipalities and it's a continual frustration to city residents that the suburban town residents aren't very involved or interested in the city at all.

    I'm just not sure what is meant by 'dominated' in these constructions. Does it simply mean that there is more interaction between the city residents and the suburban residents? That people travel back and forth between city and suburb more often in some cities than others? Does it mean there's more commuting and thus that the suburbs are more economically dependent on the city as a source of wealth? That would be a quantifiable thing you could construct a study around. IN the meantime, I'm just not sure what "dominated" means. Unless there is some demonstrable, measurable element of "domination", it's hard to figure out when it's an applicable idea.

    BKM - glad you like Portsmouth! I certainly do. I didn't know very much about it before I lived here, but now that I've been here a while, I love it so much that it's as though I was able to design my own personal ideal city, and then really live there!
    Last edited by Miko; 31 Aug 2004 at 10:37 PM.

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    Quote Originally posted by Miko
    BKM - glad you like Portsmouth! I certainly do. I didn't know very much about it before I lived here, but now that I've been here a while, I love it so much that it's as though I was able to design my own personal ideal city, and then really live there!
    *sniff, sniff* What's that? Do I smell a phototour..?!

  22. #22
    Member Miko's avatar
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    Oh, there's a big photo essay a-comin' jest as soon as I get my film developed. (It's this funny stuff that comes all rolled up and you can't see the picture until you...oh, never mind, I just need some time!)

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    A critical variable here is state annexation law. Tucson would be suburb-dominated IF it had been hard for the city to annex or easy for suburban NIMBY's to create their own cities. It would be an essentially dead downtown surrounded by suburbs, if Arizona law hadn't facilitated annexation and made the creation of new 'burbs hard to do.

  24. #24

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    Quote Originally posted by Lee Nellis
    A critical variable here is state annexation law. Tucson would be suburb-dominated IF it had been hard for the city to annex or easy for suburban NIMBY's to create their own cities. It would be an essentially dead downtown surrounded by suburbs, if Arizona law hadn't facilitated annexation and made the creation of new 'burbs hard to do.
    Is that the case in much of the West? I've been to Phoenix and Las Vegas. In Phoenix, it seems that annexation was made easy for cities; it has large areas that would've been suburbs in other metro areas. In Vegas, it seems that the incorporation of 'burbs was made difficult, and Vegas is surrounded by huge unincorporated areas of Clark County.

    State law as much as anything has made Western cities look different from Eastern ones.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian drucee's avatar
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    Tucson is more similar to Vegas with respect to annexation than it is to Phoenix. Like Memphis, Phoenix and its surrounding megaburbs (Mesa, Chandler, Scottsdale, Glendale) take in new subdivisions, leaving very little in unincorporated Maricopa County. And while the University of Arizona keeps certain parts of central Tucson vibrant, the borders of Tucson proper remain relatively fixed, and much new sprawl is taking place in unincorporated Pima County. While the post-office addresses for these places (Catalina Foothills, Drexel Heights, Casas Adobes) are still Tucson, and they share school districts with Tucson proper (school districts in Arizona do not follow civic boundaries), police and fire services are provided by districts not affiliated with the City of Tucson, and most recent Tucson sprawl remains unincorporated.

    However, there is one piece of information that I do not know yet, and that is whether the only two incorporated cities in metropolitan Tucson apart from Tucson itself (excluding South Tucson, which is an enclave), Oro Valley and Marana, have relatively stable borders or are taking in subdivisions. If Marana and Oro Valley annex frequently and easily, it would throw a wrench in my entire hypothesis about fluidity of civic boundaries in Tucson as compared to Phoenix.

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