For more than half a century, major metropolitan areas in the United States have experienced urban flight, with people moving further and further away from the city center. Typically, the further homes are from job centers, the more affordable they are. What this means, however, is that as gasoline prices rise in the United States, so does the cost of getting to work. American Public Media’s Marketplace recently reported on a study that showed a correlation between the number of foreclosures, the distance workers travel and the price of a gallon of gas in the Chicago area. According to the report, as gas prices increased, the number of home foreclosures also rose in concentric rings away from the city center. The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is now encouraging home ownership with shorter commutes. HUD officials say they want to ensure the next time gas prices rise, foreclosures do not follow suit.
Of course, this report leaves out important factors such as the nexus between income levels and home buying decisions, incentives for buying homes in different areas and differential travel times between people of different genders and races…all of which have been explored by geographers. For example, in their article, “Journey to Work” Sultana and Weber look at the commuting characteristics of residents of two metropolitan areas in the Southeastern United States. Through the use of Census data, the researchers conclude that people living in urban sprawl areas do have longer commutes than those living in higher density areas. The commutes of the sprawl area residents are longer in terms of both mileage and time. Sultana and Weber, however, also determined that residency in a sprawl area alone was not a definitive predictor of commute time and distance; socioeconomic factors also come into play.