No clear consensus has been reached with regards to the causes of suburban sprawl and those that have ventured ideas mostly settle on some type of behavioral change as the reason. The research presented here seeks to determine if demographic factors have had any role in the uneven dispersal, spatially and temporally, of housing (a major component of suburban sprawl) in Rhode Island. The hypothesis is that sprawl, or urban-rural migration, is not just a result of a behavior change but also more significantly a result of changes in the age structure of the population. Given age-specific migratory patterns driven by residential preference, coupled with age specific behavior patterns and a changing age structure, growth in sprawl indicators will occur seemingly unrelated to the overall growth of the contemporary population. Therefore it is necessary to compare the growth of sprawl indicators not to the growth of the total population at the time in question but to the growth of a subset of the population (a specific age group for instance) most likely to engage in the behavior associated with that indicator. Using age structure deviation analysis and a decomposition of changes in population by age group, it has been concluded that a significant portion of Rhode Island's problems with high levels of development is due to these demographic effects. This study suggests programs designed to stop sprawl should focus on specific age groups in a population to create more tailored programs. It was also determined that suburban sprawl is intimately linked to population growth displaced in time by about 30-40 years. As a result of not accounting for these demographic dynamics, the measure of success or failure of policy decisions currently risks being over or under stated if the policies are designed to decrease certain indicators of sprawl that appear may not be tied directly to sprawl. Also the research suggests that other indicators of sprawl may be susceptible to the age structure effects detailed here.

©Copyright 2001,
Thomas Bolioli

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