Let Americans sprawl into suburbia - they're doing that anyway

Let America Sprawl

Americans, with little help from government, are reinventing themselves and boosting their prospects by settling in less expensive, less regulated regions where rents and house prices are more affordable.

Much of this is taking place in “red states,” leading some to link this movement to a conservative ideological agenda. But this is not primarily a political movement. It is a reflection of a largely apolitical grassroots and market-driven trend.

America’s Geographic Pattern

American history has been defined by its vastness. Colonial America provided an outlet for Britons hemmed in by scarce land, enclosures, and aristocratic domination. The early America republic was largely shaped by an epic expansion to the West, driven both by immigrants and by domestic migration from the more heavily settled, class-bound coastal areas.

Through the 19th century, millions migrated further into the interior of the continent, even to the so-called “great American desert” that Daniel Webster, among others, considered inhospitable to human habitation. Ultimately, the path of manifest destiny extended to the Pacific coast, shifting political power, economic, technological, and cultural influence from its historical northeastern base.

Today’s American geographic trends favor the South, the intermountain West, and the desert Southwest. In the past decade, five southern states — Texas, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and South Carolina, along with Arizona in the west — exceeded the growth in all of the other (44) states and the District of Columbia, according to the Census, notes demographer Wendell Cox. This pattern has accelerated since 2020, with southern states gaining 1.7 million, while the other three Census regions (Northeast, Midwest, and West) all had net domestic migration losses. In 2023, southern states accounted for 87 percent of all U.S. population growth.

Over recent decades the settled areas of the northeast and the West Coast have become ever more expensive and highly regulated, driving both businesses and people away. Recently the net losers include green “utopia” Oregon, and California, blessed by nature but also now the most heavily regulated state and among the highest taxed. Those running California managed to create a situation where housing prices have soared, even as the state has lost population.

The Triumph of Suburbia

The emergence of the New America is not just a move to red states but includes population shifts within blue states. In California, San Francisco and Los Angeles may be experiencing declines, but outlying areas such as the San Joaquin Valley and the Inland Empire continue to grow, a trend expected to continue for the next several decades.

Read the rest of this piece at National Review.

Joel Kotkin is the author of The Coming of Neo-Feudalism: A Warning to the Global Middle Class. He is the Roger Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University and Executive Director for Urban Reform Institute. Learn more at joelkotkin.com and follow him on Twitter @joelkotkin.

Photo: suburban sprawl in Southern California