Confusing Suburbs With Rural Areas

MLewyn's picture

A recent article discussed in the Atlantic blog suggests that suicide rates increase as density goes down, especially below 300 people per square kilometer (i.e. 777 people per square mile).   The title of the article: "The Unsettling Link Between Sprawl and Suicide." 

What's wrong with that?  Such low densities are not sprawl (except perhaps in estate-home suburbs with less than one house per acre).  Rather, a density of 500 people per square mile is a more rural density (at least in a built-out area)*.  To put the matter in Transect terms, super-low densities are T2 while densities of 1000-5000 people per square mile are more likely to be T3.  For example, Atlanta sprawl suburbs like Alpharetta and Marietta have 2500-3000 people per square mile.  Even the estate-home area where I grew up (Northside-Mt. Paran in Atlanta) has 1164 people per square mile.   

In other words, commentators who treat all low density as "sprawl" are in error because densities under 1000 people per square mile are more likely to be rural densities.

Conversely, other commentators use terms like "urbanization" to describe the growth of metropolitan areas.  (So for example, you may occasionally read that 80 percent of Americans live in urban areas, as this DOT press release notes).   But this is not quite right because most residents of metropolitan areas live in suburbs, not cities. 

 

*Caveat: Counties containing suburbs (or even central cities) often have such low densities- but that's because they may still contain agricultural or undevelopable areas.  That's why (as the blog post points out) the density of San Diego County is so low as to be allegedly suicide-inducing.

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