November 2007 Vol. 106 No. 2 THE REVIEW

Essay: Suburbs as Exit, Suburbs as Entrance

Nicole Stelle Garnett

Most academics assume that suburbanites are “exiters” who have abandoned central cities. The exit story is a foundational one in the fields of land-use and local-government law: exiters’ historical, social, and economic connections with “their” center cities are frequently used to justify both growth controls and regional government. The exit story, however, no longer captures the American suburban experience. For a majority of Americans, suburbs have become points of entrance to, not exit from, urban life. Most suburbanites are “enterers”—people who were born in, or migrated directly to, suburbs and who have not spent time living in any central city. This Essay reexamines current debates about growth management and regional governance in light of the underappreciated suburbs-as-entrance story. The exit paradigm provides a powerful normative justification for policies constraining urban growth. When it is stripped away, proponents are left with utilitarian arguments. Economists challenge these arguments by showing that metropolitan fragmentation actually may be efficiency enhancing—and utilitarian arguments may ring hollow with suburban enterers themselves. This Essay sounds a cautionary note in the growth management and regional government debates. The exit story is an outdated rhetorical flourish that tends to oversimplify the case for—and camouflage the complexities of—policies restricting suburban growth, especially when it comes to distributional and transitional-fairness concerns.

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