By enlarging their spheres of influence and crossing set administrative limits, most western cities have seen a trend of population increase. The culmination of these urbanizing processes ushered in a new metropolitan period that promotes urban populations’ residential mobility as the primary element in determining how cities are structured. Due to its dual nature, residential mobility can serve as an indicator for the stage of development of the urban process. At the macro level, these flows are the main driver of urban growth and transformation. Secondly at the micro level Individuals and households engage in mobility as a social action that shapes their activities, opportunities, and constraints.

The emergence of housing need

Among the causes that explain the need for these metropolitan processes in the region, a combination of political, demographic, and residential factors up to great extent are responsible. The saturation and inadequacy of the housing supply in the main cities and the housing policy that favored the construction of private market housing and access to homeownership have fostered an increase in suburbanization. The massive construction of housing generated an expansionary economic cycle which led to a surge in new housing despite rising prices.

An unprecedented increase in suburbanization led to central cities becoming unaffordable for most of the population of metropolitan areas. These two are complimentary trends that seem to reinforce a dual-city model at the metropolitan level. The emergence of growing demand for housing is fed by the massive influx of immigration and cohorts of people requiring houses in and around job centers.

In this context of a major expansion of the housing market, metropolitan cities began to structure into large spaces differentiated by level of social prestige.

Rising inequality in central cities

The central cities of these metropolitan areas became spaces of conflict, where extreme inequality existed. Also, public authorities implemented policies aimed at functional reconversions of the main cities. Such as the “Barcelona model,” these policies took the form of public-private interventions.

Centralization is based on lifestyle seeking the closeness and concentration of daily interaction in more urban settings. The location and symbolic value of the place are of greater importance than the housing.

In the early eighties and nineties, the suburbanization movement was based on the movement of the sector of the middle class. In contrast, recent processes have involved the working classes. Suburbanization tends to lead to an increase in the distances between the spaces that are part of a daily commute. The ownership of spacious homes identified with such things as nature, tranquillity, and safety is of importance. Suburbanization is a more family-based process, in contrast to centralization. 

Determinants of suburbanization and centralization

Age Factor: – Older persons move to the center, linked to changing household structure and to a non-family structure. Whereas, young adults, married couples, and families in stages of a household expansion move to the outer ring of metropolitan areas.

Education Level: – The central city concentrates on the more educated population. Whereas, the population’s education level in the metropolitan ring is relatively reduced.

Employment and Occupation: – The rings and central cities lead to a concentration of professionals in the centers and the exit of the workers to the suburbs.

Access to Property: – Suburbanization is associated with access to the property, mainly through credit in form of mortgages.  Centralization is more diverse and includes an important proportion of rental housing and the search for smaller and older housing.

Image:  Characteristics of Suburbanization and centralization


Contrasting dynamics of a centralization of wealth and a suburbanization of poverty have emerged as a result of the growth in housing prices in core cities. These have been fuelled by processes of urban renewal and gentrification.

To avoid new problems resulting from peripheralization, social housing should also be considered important above the housing and urban regeneration.

The article is based on: Towards a Dual City? Suburbanization and Centralization
in Spain’s Largest Cities

Image Courtesy: So Whats Your Solution for Suburban Sprawl – Consumer Energy Alliance



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