Metropolitan Growth Patterns' Impact on Intra-Regional Spatial Differentiation and Inner-Ring Suburban Decline: Insights for Smart Growth

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Lee, Sugie
French, Steven P.
Leigh, Nancey Greene
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This dissertation investigates the impact of metropolitan growth patterns and policies on both intra-regional spatial differentiation and the decline of inner-ring suburbs by identifying a multi-ring metropolitan structure in four metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and Portland, using longitudinal Census data from 1970 to 2000. The findings of this research confirmed that intra-regional spatial differentiation increased over time and showed that the inner-ring suburbs in the four metropolitan areas were increasingly vulnerable to socioeconomic decline regardless of their growth patterns and policies. In contrast, the downtowns and some parts of the inner city showed gradual recovery from the deterioration patterns of the last several decades. The outer-ring suburbs continued to thrive, drawing most of the new population and housing development. This dissertation also explored the association between metropolitan growth patterns and policies and the extent of spatial differentiation and socioeconomic disparity in the subareas. Analyses found that strong decentralization trends are associated with increases in intra-regional spatial differentiation and socioeconomic disparity, while urban containment policies are associated with their reduction. However, despite its strong urban containment policies, the Portland region exhibited a clear pattern of inner-ring suburban decline, which suggests that the inner-ring suburbs require local initiatives directed toward revitalization. In conclusion, this research has shown that excessive development at the urban fringe is associated with the abandonment of the blighted inner city and more importantly, in the decline of the inner-ring suburbs. The inner-ring suburbs, with their existing valuable assets, should be fertile grounds for smart growth strategies. Moreover, the central city and outer-ring suburbs have a vital mission to save and invigorate the inner-ring suburbs, as they represent the primary link and conduit to all the surrounding areas of a metropolitan region. Only by recognizing the interdependence of all the areas and by applying sound, holistic policies can the decision-making entities of the government ensure the survival and future stability of the metropolitan areas.
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