Exurbia — that urban fringe beyond the suburbs — grew 31 percent in the 1990s, which is more than twice as fast as the metro areas that exurban communities surround.

Finding Exurbia: America’s Fast-Growing Communities at the Metropolitan Fringe,” a report by The Brookings Institution, uses a wealth of statistical information to define exurban communities and describe their growth trends.

The report’s authors conclude that exurbs may represent a fairly small share of metro areas, but they are important to study in case this outward growth pattern continues. Exurbs, they say, may “signal the possible shape of things to come. Absent continued research and policy focus as to the causes and consequences of exurban growth, we might find ourselves wondering in 2050 how New York’s exurbs arrived in Albany.”

Today’s exurbs may evolve into more established suburbs as the exurban boundary expands, the report suggests.

Exurban communities are defined in the report as the outer edge of urban areas in which 20 percent of the workers commute to jobs in an urbanized area. The report, which relies on economic and demographic data from 1990-2005, also describes exurban areas as communities with low-density housing and a high rate of population growth.

About 10.8 million people live in the exurbs of large metro areas, the report states, which represents about 6 percent of the total population of the metro areas that they encompass. Exurbanites have big lots. “The typical exurban Census tract has 14 acres of land per home, compared to 0.8 acres per home in the typical tract nationwide,” the report states.

About 5 million people, or 4 percent of the total U.S. exurban population, live in the South, while 2.6 million people live in Midwestern exurbs. At least 20 percent of residents live in the exurbs in the following metro areas, among them: Little Rock, Ark.; Grand Rapids, Mich.; Greenville, S.C.; and Poughkeepsie, N.Y. And at least 20 percent of the population lives in exurban areas in 245 counties, the study found.

Typical exurban residents are white, middle-income homeowners who commute to work. “They do not appear to telecommute, work in the real estate industry, or inhabit super-sized homes at higher rates than residents of other metropolitan county types,” according to the report.

Growth in exurbs is sometimes fueled by middle-income families who are seeking to find more affordable homes “that are in limited supply elsewhere,” the report states, but exurbia residents can also be populated by high-income residents.

New England has the smallest share of the national exurban population, at 4.6 percent, followed by the Mountain region at 5.2 percent. Texas ranked highest among states for its exurban population in 2000, at 1.2 million. California followed with an exurban population of 725,900. Next was Ohio with 466,000, Michigan with 457,200 and New York with 455,800.

South Carolina’s exurban population in 2000 accounted for 9.5 percent of the state’s total population — the highest among states, followed by Oklahoma at 8.9 percent, Tennessee at 7.7 percent, Maryland at 7.5 percent and Wisconsin at 7 percent.

Among metro areas, Poughkeepsie, N.Y., ranked highest with 32.3 percent exurban population in 2000, followed by Little Rock, Ark., at 23.6 percent and Grand Rapids, Mich., at 22.8 percent. Miami ranked at the bottom of this scale, with an exurban population of 0.3 percent of the total population in 2000. Miami was followed by New Haven, Conn., at 0.6 percent, Los Angeles at 0.9 percent, New York at 1.2 percent, and Honolulu at 1.2 percent.

The total U.S. urban population in 2000 was 44.3 million, and that rose 2.9 percent to 45.6 million in 2005, according to the study. Meanwhile, inner suburbs grew 4 percent in that time to a population of 71.9 million; the outer suburbs grew 9 percent to 55.2 million; and exurban areas grew 12.3 percent to 16.2 million people. And 38 exurban counties ranked among the fastest-growing counties in the country from 2000-05.

In examining exurban demographics, the study found that about 83 percent of exurban-county residents were non-Hispanic whites, compared with 61 percent of residents in large metro areas. “With the exception of American Indians, each race and ethnic group — including people of two or more races — comprised a lower share of population in exurbs than in any other county type,” according to the report.

About 86 percent of exurban counties had a white population share above the national average of 67 percent. And though whites are over-represented in exurban counties relative to their share of the nation’s population, the report found that exurban counties have grown slightly more diverse since 2000.

About 28 percent of exurban-county households are married-couple families with children — about 2 percentage points higher than in outer suburban communities and 4 percentage points higher than the average for large metro areas. About 21 percent of exurban-county households are people who live alone, compared with 30 percent in urban counties. About 51 percent of people in the average exurban county work in another county, compared with 29 percent of those who live in the average large metro-area county.

The study also defines exurban workers with one-hour commutes or longer as “super-commuters,” and those who depart before 6 a.m. for work as “early risers.” About 33 percent of residents in Park County, Colo., spend one hour or longer commuting to work, and this county tops the list for its share of super-commuters. Pike County, Pa., ranks second with a 30.6 percent share of super-commuters, and Warren County, Va., ranks third with 29 percent.

About 28.2 percent of commuters in Crawford County, Ind., meanwhile, leave for work before 6 a.m., followed by Juniata County, Pa., with a 27.6 percent share and Nye County, Nev., with a 27.5 percent share of early risers.

While there are sometimes perceptions that the exurbs are fertile ground for super-sized homes, or “McMansions,” the study found that homeowners in inner suburbs and outer suburbs were about 50 percent more likely to occupy giant homes in 2000 than exurban residents.

“Thus, it seems that exurbs generally offer more intermediate, affordable new home types than do metropolitan suburbs,” the report states.

As for exurban political leanings, the study found that 19 of 242 exurban counties “cast a majority of their ballots for (John) Kerry” in the latest presidential election, while 63 percent of votes cast in exurban counties for either of the two major-party presidential candidates went to George W. Bush.


Send tips or a Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com or call (510) 658-9252, ext. 137.

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