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Vojnovic, Igor, Eckert, Jeanette and Li, Xiaomeng, Michigan State University

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Vojnovic, Igor, Eckert, Jeanette and Li, Xiaomeng, Michigan State University

Black Cities/White Suburbs:

Shaping Michigan urban and suburban landscapes of inequity and inequality

Igor Vojnovic, Jeanette Eckert and Xiaomeng Li

The 1960 U.S. Census was a turning point in revealing new patterns in American city building. It triggered a debate on urban and suburban development processes that continues to be at the forefront of national policy discussions, and over the years it has taken on environmental, socio-economic and public health dimensions. Between 1950 and 1960, the U.S. urban population grew by almost 23 million people, an unprecedented increase in absolute numbers, as the country became over 63% urban (U.S. Census Bureau. 1993). In this one decade, the urban population in America had increased by 38%. As relevant of an issue as the urbanization was the recognition that while the urban population increased by 38%, urban land use increased twofold during the same period (Boyce, 1963). The average urban density in the U.S. decreased from 5,410 persons per square mile in 1950, to 3,759 persons per square miles in 1960. A new socio-demographic and structural pattern had emerged in the building of American urban centers, and along with it came a distinct imprint of spatial segregation that generated a new landscape of inequity and inequality, evident in part with the blackening of cities and the whitening of suburbs.

Into the latter-20th century, a new spatial structure was imprinted across urban regions, increasingly characterized by urban decentralization and dispersion. An increased use of land became evident in the production of built space, from the construction of roads and highways, to the development of commercial, retail and residential spaces. Between just the years 1970 and 2000, the average lot and house size doubled across the U.S., with lots averaging 14,000 square feet and houses averaging 2,400 square feet by the year 2000 (Burchell et al., 2002). Into the late-20th century, development also continued to increasingly decentralize and disperse. The results of these broader national development patterns, as revealed by the work of Robert Burchell and colleagues, were seen with ever-increasing rates of land consumption. Between 1982 and 1997, while the U.S. population grew by only 17%, urbanized land increased by 47% (Burchell et al., 2005). This was a development trend that was converting some 2.2 million acres of U.S. natural lands, forests, wetlands and farmlands into urbanized uses every single year.

By 1970, more than half of the population living in metropolitan areas lived in suburbs, and this population was predominantly white. By 2000, suburbanization became even more pronounced, as more than half of the total American population lived in suburbs, and again, this population was predominantly white (U.S. Census Bureau. 2000). It was generally the wealthier, whites fleeing central-cities in the post-World War II period, a process that became known as white flight. In addition, it was not just that the U.S. population was suburbanizing, but so was the urban tax base, with this decentralization generating a rapid decline of American central cities, particularly evident during the 1970s and 1980s.

In Michigan, the cities were at the forefront of national urban decentralization trends, and it was evident in not only the scale of suburbanization but also in the rapid disinvestment and decline of urban cores across the state. During the 1980s, the deteriorating state of Michigan cities captured national attention with Michael Moore’s film Roger & Me, which showed the crippling economic decline of the City of Flint. From 1970 to 2000, the rate of suburbanization across Michigan ensured that the development of land was increased ten times faster than population growth. As of 2000, more than 60% of the Michigan population lived in suburbs (Orfield and Luce, 2003).

Between 1982 and 1992, Michigan lost 10 acres of farmland every hour to urban development, a total of 854,000 acres of farmland over the course of the ten years (Burchell, 2005). And while many urban centers in the state can be used as examples of excessive suburbanization coupled with rapid central-city decline—including Saginaw, Flint, and Bay City—it is ongoing decentralization of the Detroit Region, along with the decline of large areas of the City of Detroit, which has captured national and international attention.

In the Detroit region, from 1960 to 1990, the land to population growth ratio was thirteen to one (Public Sector Consultants, 2001). The City of Detroit’s population, which had peaked at some 1.85 million people in 1950, had declined to a population of 713,777 people by 2010 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011). By 2013, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the city’s population estimate was 688,701 (U.S. Census Bureau, 2015). The steady population exodus out of the City of Detroit between the years 2000 and 2010 has averaged 63 people every day, or about 3 people every hour. In addition to the population decline, a clear racial and class imprint has emerged across the city and its suburbs. By 2010, 83% of the City of Detroit residents were black, while in the broader Metropolitan Detroit area—an area consisting of over 3.86 million people—over 97% of all whites living in Metro Detroit resided in the suburbs (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011).

By the 2010 Census, there was a new pattern of urban (re)development that had emerged across large parts of the U.S., with evidence of urban reinvestment, urban growth, as well as growing ethnic and racial diversity in many U.S. inner-cities. However, it is also apparent that, as in the case of Metropolitan Detroit, Midwestern cities continue to be vulnerable to development processes characterized by extreme urban dispersion, combined with urban disinvestment and decline (Short and Mussman, 2014; U.S. Census Bureau. 2011). Within the context of these ongoing trends in the Midwest, this chapter will explore city building processes—including service provision and infrastructure investment—and the shaping of the built environment across Michigan urban centers, including the Detroit region. Dimensions of class, race and local culture are explored in (re)development processes as are the resulting impacts of socioeconomic and racial variables on access to urban amenities across Detroit region neighborhoods. The chapter reveals that traditional relationships between urban form and accessibility in the city are not necessarily replicable in highly segregated, underclass neighborhoods experiencing intense disinvestment. These urban neighborhoods in decline have been increasingly developing characteristics of extreme low density suburbs in accessing urban amenities despite their built environments, which are characterized by higher urban densities, mixed land uses and connected street networks.


Boyce, R.R., 1963. Myth versus reality in urban planning. Land Economics. 39. Pp. 241-251.

Burchell, R., G. Lowenstein, W. Dolphin, C. Galley, A. Downs, S. Seskin, K. Still, and T. Moore. 2002. Costs of Sprawl 2000. Washington DC: National Academy Press.

Burchell, R., A. Downs, B. McCann, and S. Mukherji. 2005. Sprawl Costs: Economic Impacts of Unchecked Development. Washington D.C: Island Press.

Orfield, M. and T. Luce. 2003. Michigan Metropatterns. Minneapolis, MN: Amergis. P. 4; U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. Population Estimates of Metropolitan Areas, Metropolitan Areas Inside Central Cities, Metropolitan Areas Outside Central Cities, and Nonmetropolitan Areas by State. Washington D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

Public Sector Consultants. 2001. Michigan Land Resource Project. Lansing, MI: Public Sector Consultants.

Short, J.R. and M. Mussman. 2014. Population Change in U.S. Cities: Estimating and Explaining the Extent of Decline and Level of Resurgence. The Professional Geographer. 66(1). Pp. 112-123.

U.S. Census Bureau. 1993. Population and Housing Unit Counts: United States Summary. Washington D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2000. Population Estimates of Metropolitan Areas, Metropolitan Areas Inside Central Cities, Metropolitan Areas Outside Central Cities, and Nonmetropolitan Areas by State. Washington D.C.: U.S. Census Bureau.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2011. 2010 Census Redistricting Data. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

U.S. Census Bureau. 2015. State and County Quickfacts. Washington DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Wachsmuth, David, University of British Columbia
The “In-Between Territories” of Suburban Infrastructure Politics

David Wachsmuth

Department of Geography, University of British Columbia

There is a contradiction in the contemporary relationship between infrastructure development and local growth politics in the United States. On the one hand, infrastructure development is commonly understood to be a central policy focus of growth coalitions, since infrastructure provides the material preconditions for new capital investment in localities. The emergence in recent decades of new infrastructure-led development strategies based around trade and logistics has strengthened this focus and supplied new tangible targets for growth politics. But, on the other hand, infrastructure development also challenges the coherence of local growth coalitions, since infrastructure projects frequently exceed the local and metropolitan scales at which such coalitions are preferentially organized (via municipal governments, chambers of commerce, economic development corporations, and regional partnerships).

In this paper I argue that this contradiction has been driving a new form of multi-city growth politics in the US—one which has tended to privilege certain specific suburban development interests. The paper advances two major claims. The first is that “geographical market making”—the extension of effective supply chains and the intensification of circulatory possibilities within a supply chain—offers a structuring principle for new, emerging multi-city growth coalitions analogous to the role of land use intensification underlying traditional local growth machines. The second is that “in-between territories”—suburban jurisdictions located between major growth poles along urban corridors—have become key strategic points in the territorial politics of geographical market making and infrastructure politics more broadly.

The first section of the paper discusses the relationship between the development of the built environment and the local growth coalitions widely understood to be central to contemporary entrepreneurial urban governance. On the basis of that discussion, I introduce the concept of geographical market making, and outline the basic strategic contours of the multi-city growth coalitions which assemble to pursue geographical market making strategies.

I then proceed to argue that geographical market making generates a distinctive suburbanized spatial politics. Where local economic development agendas in polycentric urban regions are driven by infrastructure priorities of the growth poles, specific suburban spaces can emerge as strategically important sites for territorial growth politics. This is thanks to 1) the imperative to unite political-economic interests across the entire regions, and 2) strategic opportunities for siting new infrastructure development along established corridors but outside the major growth poles. I call these sites “in-between territories”, in the sense that their strategic significance arises from their spatial location in between growth poles along urban corridors. But describing these sites in terms of their relationship to nearby major cities is not meant to imply that they are peripheral. Indeed, while in-between territories are spatially “in-between”, they are strategically central.
In the paper I develop this argument through a comparison of suburban infrastructure politics in two sites in the United States: Pinal County, Arizona and Polk County, Florida. Pinal County is a rapidly urbanizing county between the major Arizona growth poles of Phoenix and Tucson. In

the last 25 years its population has increased four-fold, from 100,000 residents in 1990 to over

400,000 by the end of 2014. Much of that growth has been exurbanization from greater Phoenix along the main interstate corridor of I-10. Polk County lies along the I-4 corridor in Central Florida, equidistant between Tampa and Orlando. Like Pinal County in Arizona, Polk County has been one of the fastest growing areas of the state thanks to expansion from the two major cities it lies between, although it has grown from a larger base, with the city of Lakeland accounting for

100,000 of the more than 600,000 residents in the county. In the last ten years both the Phoenix- Tucson and Tampa-Orlando corridors have been the sites of new economic development strategies focused on expanding and intensifying the built environment for trade and logistics. And in both cases, the in-between territories of Pinal County and Polk County respectively have become (surprisingly? disproportionately?) central to these strategies.

Since 2010, in the wake of the onset of the Great Recession and the complete collapse of Arizonas housing-led growth pathways, a group of metropolitan planning organizations in Phoenix-Tucson corridor has been collaborating (as the Joint Planning Advisory Council) to develop a new freight-led economic development strategy. The centrepiece of the strategy is an attempt to create a distributed “inland port” to capture logistics activity from the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports, and from Mexican maquiladoras. And Pinal County has become the linchpin in this strategy—the “cream filling in the Oreo cookie”, as one of my informants described it—because it has readily developable land located between Phoenix and Tucson and with good connections to two interstate highways and the Union Pacific rail line. In Central Florida, Polk County has played a similar role in corridor-wide planning and development

schemes. The distributed nature of Floridas ports (unlike most coastal states, there is not a single large primate port but rather a range of medium-size facilities) means that the centrally-located Polk County has been an attractive destination for new logistics initiatives.

The paper systematically compares these two cases, and draws out the implications for the future of urban growth politics in an increasingly polycentric and suburbanized urban landscape.

Walks, Alan, University of Toronto
The Suburban Debtscape: Automobility and Financial (Infra)Structures
Dr. Alan Walks, University of Toronto
The “Long Twentieth Century” (Arrighi 1994), a concept that continues from the late 1800s to the present, has been witness to the most rapid urbanization of the globe in human history. From only 1.6 billion people in 1901, only 13 percent of whom lived in cities at the time (roughly 220 million people), the world population has grown to over 7 billion, with more than half (3.6 billion people) living in cities by 2011 (UN 2012, 2013). While urbanization has been rampant over this entire period, in absolute terms it is the post-war period that has seen the most rapid rise in population. By 2011, the global urban population – the proportion living in cities – was 43 percent larger than the entire global population in 1950 (Ibid.). Furthermore, the quality of such urbanization has changed since the end of the Second World War, with the automobile – and automobility – becoming the primary means of mobility in many nations and cities. Motor vehicle travel totaled 2.8 trillion passenger-km in 1950. Just 50 years later, this came to 32 trillion, a more than 1,000 percent increase (Walks 2015a). It could be argued that the Long Twentieth Century has been the “Century of Automobility” (Walks 2015a; Volit 1996).

While there is a diversity of suburban forms and “suburbanisms” (Walks 2013a), the kind of urbanization that has been most common in the post-war period, typically but not exclusively automobile-oriented, has required disproportionate levels of infrastructure dedicated to facilitating automobility, such as wide roads, parking lots and garages, highways, exit ramps, gas stations, and driveways, in addition to the vehicles themselves. All of this has had to be financed. The state – both the local state (municipalities), as well as upper levels of government (national and provincial/state levels) – has financed the bulk of the public infrastructure (streets, rights of way, public parking, highways), while the “private” sectors have covered the financing of such infrastructures on private lands (mall and office parking, gas stations, etc). The household sector is, however, the key consumer, whose purchasing of automobiles, and places to move and store them (driveways and garages, typically on residential lands) has helped “drive” the shift toward the auto-mobile city (or as Walks 2015a calls it, the “auto-city”).

Separate kinds of financial infra-structures have been set up for states and households to finance such expenditures. States have relied on bond markets for raising funds, as well as inter-governmental transfers or lending facilities of various kinds, leading to rising levels of debt. Similarly, households have relied on different kinds of financial structures to borrow for the purchase of automobiles, residential property, and other expenditures. Since the 1990s, the adoption of loan securitization – the packing of mortgages into mortgage-backed securities, and automobile loans into asset-based securities, among other things – has worked to provide households with greater access to credit for such purchases (see Walks 2014; Walks and Clifford, forthcoming). In many nations, including Canada, both municipal levels of debt, and household debt, has thus increased over time, with the most rapid increase taking place since the year 2000. The contours of this landscape of indebtedness, and the forms its rise has taken since this time, constitutes an important aspect of what I call the “urban debtscape” (Walks 2013b). The latter involves not only the levels and forms of indebtedness, but also credit cultures, financial structures, and the politics of debt, in different places.

Given the large proportion of contemporary populations living in the post-war suburbs, the suburban debtscape is an important component of the overall global urban debtscape. While, again, there is a huge diversity of different kinds of suburbs and suburbanisms (Walks 2013a), a greater proportion of total outstanding debt, among both households and municipalities, in the post-war suburbs of metropolitan areas in developed nations such as Canada is related to the purchase of vehicles and the infrastructures put in place to support automobility. This means that the suburban debtscape features some different characteristics, different processes, different outcomes, and potentially different futures, than is found in other kinds of communities. One of the aims of this paper and presentation is to understand these characteristics, and examine the processes producing alternative scenarios for municipalities and households in the suburbs developed since the Second World War. The data empirically examined for this paper derives from Canadian cities over the period 2000 through 2012, and involves comparison of household and municipal debt levels, and levels of household bankruptcy, at different scales of analysis, from neighbourhoods, to municipalities, to metropolitan areas. A series of indices of financial vulnerability are constructed and examined for municipalities and households at these different scales, including interrogation of their socio-demographic, financial, and structural correlates.

Patterns of indebtedness and financial vulnerability vary considerably among suburban places. Furthermore, higher expenditures on automobiles and automobile-oriented infrastructure are not found to necessarily impart higher levels of financial vulnerability or indebtedness. Indeed, in some places, these variables are a source of economic and financial strength (as they are for many automobile-dependent metropolitan areas, see Walks 2015b). However, there are factors that structurally weaken the future financial viability of certain automobile-dependent suburbs and the ability of households to amass wealth through homeowership equity, raising the level of risk to future financial adjustments in such places. These factors are discussed, and their implications for the future of the suburbs examined.

Volti, R. (1996) A century of automobility. Technology and Culture. 37 (4): 663-685
Walks, A. (2015a) Driving cities: Automobility, neoliberalism, & urban transformation, in Walks, A. (Ed.) The Urban Political Economy and Ecology of Automobility: Driving Cities, Driving Inequality, Driving Politics. London: Routledge. 3-20
Walks, A. (2015b) Driven into debt? Automobility and financial vulnerability, in Walks, A. (Ed.) The Urban Political Economy and Ecology of Automobility: Driving Cities, Driving Inequality, Driving Politics. London: Routledge. 59-80
Walks, A. (2014) Canada’s Housing Bubble Story: Mortgage Securitization, The State, and the Global Financial Crisis. International Journal of Urban and Regional Research. 38(1): 256-284
Walks, A. (2013a) Suburbanism as a Way of Life, Slight Return. Urban Studies. 50 (8): 1471-1388
Walks, A. (2013b) Mapping the Urban Debtscape: The Geography of Household Debt in Canadian Cities. Urban Geography. 34 (2): 153-187
Walks, A. and Clifford, B. (forthcoming) The political economy of mortgage securitization and the neoliberalization of housing policy in Canada. Environment and Planning A.
United Nations. (2012) World Urbanization Prospects, 2011 Revision. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Working paper no. ESA/P/WP.224
United Nations. (2013) World Population Prospects, 2012 Revision. New York: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Population Division, Working paper no. ESA/P/WP.228

Woudsma, Clarence, University of Waterloo
Suburbanization, Suburbanisms and Freight; Infrastructures at the Crossroads

Clarence G. Woudsma, University of Waterloo

Freight, goods, commodities, products; are descriptors of the physical materials that flow in the city and the suburb, sustaining urban vitality. Suburbanization and suburbanisms include the consumption, production, and distrubution behaviours of residents and firms whose material related activity impacts, and are impacted by infrastructures on which it relies and which are indeed of central importance to the functioning of the entire urban region (Keil and Young, 2008). Freight activity also plays an important role in the configuration of cities and is shaped by places, as it also shapes places (Hall and Hesse, 2012). Arguably, the enabling infrastructures central to this paper are as much about “freight” as they are about “people” and the explorations of our central questions are from a freight perspective.
It is fascinating time to explore freight in this context. The dynamics at play include, (from Dablanc and Rodrigue, 2014)

  • rising demands for express transport and courier activity related to the service economy,

  • the dispersion of manufacturing and global supply chains that increase demands on local accommodation for frequent, timely delivery,

  • the rise of mega distribution centres, often in suburban locations that serve the city, region and nation, (Cidell, 2012)

  • and a retail landscape undergoing significant transformation under e-retailing and the rise of home deliveries.

This all points to increasing prominence of freight in the urban realm and it also raises important questions. Amazon offers one-hour delivery service in select markets but these are not suburban markets; is this a question of equity in delivery services considering the role of subsidized road infrastructure? How do the suburban infrastructures facilitate the urban core lifestyle that demands this level of service? What are the implications of the urban infrastructure served by a regulation mandated small, low emission vehicle while the suburban infrastructure crumbles under the weight, disruption, and noise of heavy trucks? Is the modern distribution/fulfillment center served by multi-modal (road, rail, air) suburban infrastructures the new shopping mall of the 1970s, undermining traditional (big box) retailing as the goods come to the people through home delivery? How are the negative “explosive” impacts of this activity or the integrative benefits felt throughout the urban region? The “last mile” (supply chain terminology for goods reaching their final point of consumption) of home delivery is spatially exhaustive - every point in the built environment is part of the material flow space. What does this fact mean for the exploration of suburbanization infrastructures?

These illustrative questions allude to the “crossroads” facing freight infrastructures: fundamental decisions need to be made with uncertain outcomes: connecting to the themes of exploration in this paper:

  1. the diversity of freight related actors, agencies and interests involved in the “Upstream”, infrastructure-related decision-making

  2. the neglected nature of the freight dimensions in the technical, political and critical discourses around infrastructures

  3. the complexity of the downstream impacts of freight activity on broader society

The use of selective case study examples drawn from Canadian cities (including Vancouver and Toronto) will provide the basis for tackling a number of suggested questions:

  • How do political and technological factors contribute to the evolution of infrastructure networks?

  • Is there anything special about “suburban” infrastructures as opposed to generally “urban” infrastructures?

  • To what degree do suburban infrastructures have a particularly important place in the extended urbanization we experience today?

  • Is there a state, market and private authoritarian splintering of infrastructures going on in suburbia?

  • What lessons can we draw from suburban infrastructure case studies about inequities built-in the decision-making and societal repercussions of infrastructures?

  • What does the present suburban infrastructure reality tell us about possible future trajectories of infrastructures and suburbs?

Case studies include: (but are not limited to)

  • Infrastructure developments in Greater Vancouver related to the Asia Pacific Gateway and Corridor Program

  • Centre Port Winnipeg

  • Metrolinx Urban Goods Movement Study

  • Southern Ontario Gateway Council

  • Peel Region Strategic Goods Movement Plan

  • CN Intermodal Milton Proposal

  • Canadian Tire Distribution Center, Bolton

  • GTA West Corridor

The scale of interest from government actors in freight has aligned with their spheres of influence; Federal government – global/national; Provincial – national/regional or intercity; and Municipal – mixed but predominantly local. The local scale is where the complexities of freight movement play out with disconnects between the distant multinational actors driving supply chains of material flows and the local government/citizens that regulate and restrict freight movement rather than accommodate and understand these flows. The local response is to the negative externalities generated by the freight flows they coexist with, often not valuing the broader economic impacts of that activity, in large part driven by their own consumptive behavior. As phrased in a Transport Canada report – “people want the goods, but not the bads” The activity of the academic experts in infrastructure related to freight has squeezed out the suburbs with an earlier focus on larger regional, national global scale –during the rise of suburbia – replaced by recent surging interest in “city logistics” .

The short version of transportation infrastructures interest and research activity in the typical North American suburb is auto focused, transit challenged, active transport (walking, cycling) limited and freight forgotten. The literature on goods movement in an urban context has always been the in the shadow of the emphasis on people movement, with previous reviews pointing to deficiencies in understanding by planners, in disparate jurisdictions across the globe (Woudsma, 2001; Dablanc, 2007; Hall and Hesse 2012, Cui et al., 2015). The outcome of this paper will offer a small step towards shining light on the crossroads currently facing freight and the infrastructure it shares on the urban stage


Cui, J.; Dodson, J., and Hall, P. V (2015) Planning for Urban Freight Transport: An Overview

doi: 10.1080/01441647.2015.1038666, Transport Reviews

Cidell, J. (2012) , From hinterland to distribution center: the Chicago region’s shifting gateway function., in “Cities, Regions and Flows.” Ed. Peter Hall, Markus Hesse. New York: Routledge, 2012.
Dablanc, L. (2007) Goods transport in large European cities: Difficult to organize, difficult to modernize, Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Volume 41, Issue 3, March 2007, Pages 280-285
Dablanc, L., and Rodrigue, J.P. (2014), City Logistics: Towards a Global Typology, Transport Research Arena, Paris, 2014
Hall, P.V., and Hesse, M. (2012) Introduction, in “Cities, Regions and Flows.” Ed. Peter Hall, Markus Hesse. New York: Routledge, 2012.
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Woudsma, C. (2001). Understanding the movement of goods, not people: Issues, evidence and potential. Urban studies, 38(13), 2439–2455.
Woudsma, C.G., Jakubicek, P., and Dablanc, L. (2015 forthcoming), Logistics Sprawl In North America: Methodological Issues And A Case Study In Toronto, 9th International Conference on City Logistics, Conference Proceedings, June 2015

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