Metropolitan Areas in 1990 vs. Today- How Different Are They? An Examination of Changes in Built Form and Resident Characteristics

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Virginia Tech


The metropolitan area form has changed over time, transitioning from one central city surrounded by suburban bedroom communities to regions that possess several self-sufficient centers of activity. While these changes have occurred, metropolitan areas are commonly compared using the simple city-suburb distinction.

The changing nature of the suburbs has been discussed in terms of changes in the built environment as well as changes in the residents; most recently, anecdotal media reports have suggested that preferences of the Millennial generation (now roughly 25-to-34-year-olds) may be influencing this shift. There are two main goals of this dissertation: to explore how density has changed in the context of the overall metropolitan area, as well as to explore whether the characteristics of residents in metro areas have changed. A quantitative approach is used, with an analysis that explores changes in density over time as well as a potential relationship today between density and the characteristics of the residents, including whether the Millennial generation has any relationship to changes, if they exist.

Findings from the analysis indicate that the suburbs-city distinction is no longer relevant, and density is changing at a similar rate in both types of geographies. This suggests that density is a more appropriate metric to gauge metropolitan form changes. Further, characteristics of the population related to density have not changed since 1990, suggesting that changes in density do not have a relationship to an increase in influence by members of one generation.



Metropolitan Development, Millennials