Does density exacerbate income segregation? Evidence from U.S. Metropolitan areas, 1980-1990

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In recent years, urban sprawl has captured increased attention and calls for new policy interventions. By many definitions, sprawl has been shown fairly consistently to degrade wildlife habitat, threaten agricultural productivity, and raise the cost of public services at all levels of government (Alberti 1999; Ewing 1997). The magnitude of these costs, and whether they outweigh the benefits that sprawl provides, remains an issue of intense debate (Ewing 1997; Gordon and Richardson 1997). Many observers also assume that urban sprawl also exacerbates inner-city distress, since sprawl and urban decline have happened simultaneously, but systematic research on this question is both sparse and inconclusive (Burchell et al. 2001; Downs 1999). Distress often associates with segregation, whether by race or by income. Metropolitan areas that are more segregated by income embody conditions of concentrated affluence and poverty that may have negative effects for all residents (Galster 1992; Massey 1996). This chapter examines the relationship between one measure of urban sprawl (low density) and one indicator of distress (spatial segregation of households by income level). It tests how and whether the recently observed increase in segregation by income (Jargowsky 1996) can be explained in part by recently observed declines in population density (Fulton et al. 2001). The chapter begins with a review of "smart growth," density, and income segregation; next, it provides a review of the literature on measuring sprawl and a discussion of studies that link density and sprawl with social problems. Next, I discuss the data sources and methods used to identify the links between sprawl and segregation and present my results. These results suggest that if any changes in the spatial pattern associates with increased income segregation within metropolitan areas, it is density increase, not sprawl. To the extent that density increase associates with income segregation, it becomes even more important to enact measures that guarantee a mix of housing types and incomes as a fundamental component of local and regional land use planning.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationDesegregating The City
Subtitle of host publicationGhettos, Enclaves, and Inequality
PublisherState University of New York Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)0791464598, 9780791464595
StatePublished - 2005
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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