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A New Data Analysis Can Answer the Question "Do I Live in the Suburbs?"

The United States is a land of suburbs, with just one problem: No one’s quite clear what a “suburb” is.

It’s a question of semantics with real-world implications, as government programs, political campaigns and developers try to spend money in the “suburbs,” where a majority of Americans say they live despite the category having no formal definition.

For some people, it’s obvious: A suburb is a smaller city on the periphery of a larger city. Or it’s a sprawling neighborhood filled with vast swathes of single-family homes. Still other more dated conceptions of suburbia in the popular mind involve the people who live there: allegedly white, middle class and socially homogenous. 

Now a new team of researchers believe they’ve cracked the code.

“After enough arguments with people who insisted their neighborhood was suburban or insisted it was urban, it was clear that people have a stake in how they perceive and describe their neighborhood,” said Jed Kolko, the chief economist for Indeed.com and one of the three researchers. “But different people might describe their neighborhood in different ways.”

The solution? Just ask people—lots and lots of people. Kolko and his colleagues got a survey sample of 55,000 households to sound off about whether their neighborhoods were urban, rural or suburban. That let them build a model looking at which factors predict how respondents will answer. 

Read entire article at Bloomberg CityLab