Brookings Report: “Bright Flight” Transforming Cities and Suburbs

2912708983_5b597d4261.jpgNot as appealing as they once were. (Photo: Scorpions and Centaurs via Flickr)

The suburbs of America are not what they used to be. And neither are the cities.

This morning, The Political Environment pointed us to an article on the Huffington Post about "The State of Metropolitan America," a new Brookings Institution report on the shifting demographics of American cities and suburbs (it includes a nifty interactive map). Hope Yen writes that the report, which analyzes census data from 2000-2008, reveals a reversal of the long-established trend of "white flight" to suburbia:

In a reversal, America’s suburbs are now more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population as many younger, educated whites move to cities for jobs and shorter commutes.…

"A new image of urban America is in the making," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings who co-wrote the report. "What used to be white flight to the suburbs is turning into ‘bright flight’ to
cities that have become magnets for aspiring young adults who see access to knowledge-based jobs, public transportation and a new city ambiance as an attraction."

"This will not be the future for all cities, but this pattern in front runners like Atlanta, Portland, Ore., Raleigh, N.C., and Austin, Texas, shows that the old urban stereotypes no longer apply," he said.

The rate of poverty is rising five times faster in the suburbs than in cities. It’s a pattern that Brookings sees as a major policy challenge:

Calling 2010 the "decade of reckoning," the report urges policymakers to shed outdated notions of America’s cities and suburbs and work quickly to address the coming problems caused by the dramatic shifts in population.

Among its recommendations: affordable housing and social services for older people in the suburbs; better transit systems to link cities and suburbs; and a new federal Office of New Americans to serve the education and citizenship needs of the rapidly growing immigrant community.

The report merits much more careful analysis and closer reading. But one thing seems evident: "suburbs" and "cities" are no longer clearly defined categories with predictable attributes. The vast metropolitan landscape of America is far more fluid and dynamic than it has been in decades past. And old-school policy solutions are not going to be applicable to these new challenges.

More from around the network: On WashCycle, the saga of Mid-Atlantic AAA and the bike lanes of Pennsylvania Avenue continues. Human Transit and Orphan Road both ask some tough questions about the future of Seattle’s trolleybuses. And Bike Skirt takes a trip to Charleston — where she educates a driver on the rules of the road.