Suburban Migration

July 20, 1960

Report Outline
Growth Trends of Suburbs and Cities
Suburban Zoning and Planning Needs
Culture and Politics in the Suburbs
Special Focus

Growth Trends of Suburbs and Cities

Sharp Acceleration of Movement to Suburbs

Returns from the 1960 census show a sharply accelerated population flow—out from the cities and in from small towns and rural areas—to the suburbs that girdle America's great metropolises. Collectively, the nation's suburbs grew in the past decade six times faster than their parent cities and accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total population increase. The movement to the suburbs, which has been going on for more than half a century, may be described as one of the great social revolutions of modern times. Now almost a “flight to the suburbs,” it is creating serious problems alike for the cities which are losing population and tax revenue and for the towns which are gaining new residents more rapidly than they can expand public facilities to meet their needs.

Factors Promoting Suburban Growth Since 1900

Many factors have combined to promote migration to the suburbs. Innovations in transportation, first the street car and then the automobile, were fundamental to the movement. They made it possible for persons who worked in the city to live outside in places off the railroad commuter lines to which most suburbanites had previously been tied. More recently, the suburban trend has been encouraged by housing shortages in large cities, by the desire of families with children to get out of congested districts into homes of their own in pleasanter and more spacious surroundings, and by “the tradition of restlessness nourished and intensified by the depression and the war prosperity.” The trend has been encouraged also, or facilitated, by mushrooming real estate developments that have put a multitude of new houses on the market at a wide range of prices, and by the ready availability of facilities for financing purchase by a small down payment with liquidation of the balance through monthly payment over a long period of years.

New York, Philadelphia, and Boston began to take on metropolitan aspects at least 100 years ago. By 1900 there were numerous middle-class settlements on the fringes of large cities. The prosperity of the 1920s gave new impetus to suburban development. Increased value of urban property enabled many persons to sell city residences at a profit and move to more commodious quarters in the suburbs. Subdivision developers got into stride by adopting mass production techniques and appealing to prospective home purchasers at lower income levels. Outstanding mortgage loans exceeded $5 billion in every year from 1926 through 1929—a volume they were not to reach again until after World War II. The suburban population around the 17 largest cities increased almost 40 per cent in the 1920–30 decade, while the rate of growth in the central cities declined.

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Suburban Life
Sep. 25, 1987  Suburban Homes
Nov. 14, 1986  Downtown Suburbia
Aug. 17, 1979  America's Changing Suburbs
Jul. 20, 1960  Suburban Migration
Real Estate
Regional Planning and Urbanization