Confronting Suburban Decline Confronting Suburban Decline
Strategic Planning for Metropolitan Renewal


William H. Lucy & David L. Phillips
Format: Soft Cover
Length: 384 pages
Publisher: Island Press
ISBN: 1559637706
Copyright: 2000

Sprawling commercial and residential development in outer suburbs and exurban areas has for a number of years masked increasingly severe socioeconomic problems in suburban America. In recent decades, income declines, crime increases, and tax base erosion have affected many suburbs to an extent previously seen only in central cities.

In Confronting Suburban Decline, William H. Lucy and David L. Phillips examine conditions and trends in cities and suburbs since 1960, arguing that beginning in the 1980s, the United States entered a "post-suburban" era of declining suburbs with maturation of communities accompanied by large-scale deterioration. The authors examine:

  • Why suburban decline has become widespread.
  • How the "tyranny of easy development decisions" often results in new housing being built outside of areas that people prefer.
  • How strategic planning can help assess dangers.
  • How some suburbs have stabilized or revived.
  • How interactions between residential mobility and the age, size, and location of housing can help policy makers anticipate dangers and opportunities facing neighborhoods and jurisdictions.

Making the case that a high quality natural and built environment is key to achieving economic stability, the authors set forth a series of policy recommendations with federal, state, regional, and local dimensions that can help contribute to that goal.

In-depth case studies are provided of Richmond, Virginia and Washington, D.C., along with examples from Minnesota, Oregon, Maryland, Tennessee, and other locations. In addition, the book offers information and statistics on income, population, and racial transitions in 554 suburbs in the nation's twenty-four largest metropolitan areas.

Confronting Suburban Decline provides a detailed look at the causes of and responses to urban and suburban decline. Planners and policymakers as well as students and researchers involved with issues of land use, economic development, regional planning, community development, or intergovernmental relations will find it a valuable resource.


“With greater precision than anyone else to date, Lucy and Phillips have charted the widespread deterioration of once-desirable suburban communities as homebuyers migrate to the exurban fringe, creating a widening gap between affluent and declining suburbs. Their book convinces us that the era of suburban dominance has closed, and we have entered a new era of suburban decline. They combine a wealth of statistical data with practical insights into how public policies could shape a more balanced metropolitan future. This ambitious and sophisticated work should transform our ways of thinking about the future of urban regions.”
-- Carolyn T. Adams, Professor of Geography and Urban Studies, Temple University

“As central city advocates and exurbanite promoters of sprawl argue over highway expansions, Lucy and Phillips clearly illustrate that the fate of an urban area’s vitality lies within the metropolitan middle – aging suburban communities. The answer is not politically glamorous, but it lies in shaping the basic routines and standards of public and private community building practice. This book is a fundamental baseline from which to move this agenda forward.”
-- William R. Morrish, Director, Design Center for American Urban Landscape, University of Minnesota

About the Authors

William H. Lucy is professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia and author of Close to Power (Planners Press, 1988).

David L. Phillips is associate professor in the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning at the University of Virginia.

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