Defining “Suburban” and Why it Matters: A GIS-Based Comparison of Suburban Definitions in Quantitative Research

Authors: Fabian Terbeck*, University of Connecticut
Topics: Urban and Regional Planning, Population Geography, Spatial Analysis & Modeling
Keywords: Suburbanization, Quantitative Analysis, Segregation, Poverty, Demography
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2018
Start / End Time: 12:40 PM / 2:20 PM
Room: Napoleon C3, Sheraton 3rd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


I investigate the effects that different definitions of ‘suburb’ have on how we study suburban spaces in quantitative research. Although most of us have a relatively clear idea of what suburbs look like – low density, single family houses at the outskirts of a big city - it is surprisingly difficult to find a common definition of suburbia in quantitative studies, especially if those studies consider multiple cities at a time. Consequently, different researchers have used numerous definitions when investigating similar phenomena such as suburban decay, poverty, and racial/ethnic diversity but with sometimes contradictory results. In my presentation I compare different definitions of suburbs that have been used in recent empirical studies by measuring the effect on a selected set of demographic variables. The results show that the way we define suburbs influences results so researchers should use a more fine-grained definition to avoid the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP). In addition, empirical studies on suburbs should especially pay more attention to differences in over-bounded and under-bounded central cities when comparing suburbs.

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