Most Americans claim they live in the ‘burbs, including 18% of New Yorkers

Researchers call for official definition in light of geographic shifts, new data

(Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Birth.Movies.Death.)
(Credit: Wikimedia Commons, Birth.Movies.Death.)

It turns out the U.S. is a majority-suburban country, according to the responses to a new question in HUD’s biannual housing survey.

The results of the 2017 American Housing Survey (AHS), which included a “neighborhood description question” for the first time, found that 52 percent of respondents described their neighborhoods as suburban, just 27 percent described their neighborhood as urban and 21 percent as rural, according to City Lab.

The survey marks the first time government data has featured “suburban” areas distinct from “urban” areas. It also underscores a glaring hole: there is no official federal definition of a suburb. Shawn Bucholtz, who leads HUD’s Housing and Demographic Analysis Division, is campaigning for that to change, along with economist Jed Kolko.

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Together, they cross-referenced the AHS results with existing government definitions and found that, in both the Census Bureau’s Urban Areas and the Office of Management and Budget’s Core-based Statistical Areas, there were more “suburban” respondents than “urban” ones. Even “central cities” contain major self-defined suburban populations.

For example, 18 percent of respondents in New York City described their neighborhood as suburban. The share of suburban respondents was 26 percent in Chicago and 45 percent in Los Angeles, while Miami turned out to be more than half suburban, at 53 percent.

The federal geographic definitions are up for discussion in the coming years. [City Lab]–Kevin Sun