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Suburbanization ( English suburban 'on the outskirts' ) or urban flight is the migration of the urban population or urban functions (industry, services) from the core city to the urban surroundings (the so-called suburbia in English-language literature ) and beyond. Associated with this is a diffusion of the compact city into its surrounding country, i. H. Population, jobs, functions and thus also the importance of the central location are shifting from the city center to the suburban area. B. in the suburbs . Regional planning and urban geography deal with the development of suburbanization and its demographic , economic and settlement-structural effects . A distinction must be made between urban exodus and de- urbanization .

process description

Population and job migration in suburbanization
Residential suburbanization in Leipzig, 1995

A (historical) process of the expansion of urban living and settlement from the core city into the supplementary area can be observed mostly parallel to the development of motorized individual transport . The emigration from the big cities or the immigration to the metropolitan areas leads to the urbanization of rural communities or - in the case of new settlements - to the emergence of satellite cities or satellite cities . These areas outside the boundaries of the core city are functionally linked to the core city. The functional links between core city and surrounding area is generally on the proportion of commuters from a municipality region ( English suburb defined) in the core city. Difficulties in measuring interdependencies arise when the size of the surrounding regions changes between two points in time to be examined.

The following aspects are in the foreground when dealing with suburbanization:

  • The unequal distribution of loads on the public infrastructure is generally to the detriment of the core city, which often provides very substantial services (also) for the surrounding area without receiving any financial compensation, although surrounding communities often have higher tax revenues.
  • The loss of centrality and population often results in the core city
    • loss of jobs,
    • to change the retail structure,
    • on segregation of marginalized population groups, especially in the inner-city area and segregation of certain household types in suburban areas (actors in suburbanization),
    • an empty running or an overcapacity of infrastructure (in the areas of transport, supply and disposal, culture and leisure)
  • The increase in centrality in the surrounding community, however, leads to
    • a shortage of available residential and commercial building land,
    • an increase in land take ( urban sprawl ),
    • Increase in commuter movements and higher loads on the transport infrastructure, especially in the area of ​​private motorized transport,
    • pressure to adapt other infrastructure, e.g. B. Kindergartens,
    • socio-structural problems, e.g. B. Conflicts between new and long-established populations,
    • a loss of regional and communal identities,
    • an increased tax revenue,
    • a reshaping of the old, grown settlement structures
  • The increasing urban sprawl and the growing land and energy consumption are incompatible with the aspect of sustainability in the use of natural resources.

The main actors in residential suburbanization are younger people, especially young families, as the exemplary age structure of migration movements across the city limits of a major German city shows.

In the last few decades, suburbanization has changed its character in many countries. The suburban areas have a more mixed use and a more heterogeneous population. The number of out-commuters has often decreased as jobs have been created in the suburban areas. The settlement of services and digitization also promote the autonomy of the suburban zones and lead to the fact that they are no longer to be regarded as merely functional supplementary areas of the core cities (so-called post-suburbanization ).


Scheduled suburban settlement in the USA
High-rise residential buildings in Aubervilliers near Paris

The establishment of villa suburbs in major European and US cities since the mid-19th century and of garden cities in England and Germany around 1900 are early forms of suburbanization.

The mass suburbanization in the USA (the so-called urban sprawl ) is originally a phenomenon of prosperity. It began gradually in the economic boom in the 1920s with the spread of the automobile and on a larger scale after the Second World War , also in a period of economic prosperity . The US soldiers returning from the war founded families and preferred residential areas outside the city centers. In 1939, 13 percent of Americans lived in Suburbia ; in 2010 it was over 50 percent.

Later, the rise in the cost of living space in city centers became the driver of the process of suburbanization. In the 1960s, massive suburbanization began in Western Europe as well. It was often accompanied by the creation of large satellite towns with rental apartments.

In Eastern Europe, a catch-up suburbanization set in after 1990, as there were previously hardly any opportunities for private housing. In Asia, suburbanization began with the establishment of villa districts by the colonial powers England and the Netherlands. Informal settlements (e.g. favelas ) are poverty- and immigration-related forms of suburbanization in developing and emerging countries. The strong urban sprawl in China since 1995, on the other hand, has rarely taken the form of suburbanization: Here the cause is to be seen in the spread of industrial facilities in the area around which new workers' settlements have emerged.

Since the 1970s, suburban structures have become more complex and heterogeneous worldwide. The suburbia is increasingly developing urban functions.


General reasons for suburbanization are

  • Strong immigration pressure into the city from residents ( rural exodus ) or gains from foreign immigration (e.g. influx of highly qualified foreign workers into global cities ). This process finds its extreme expression in the formation of megacities .
  • A strong settlement and area pressure in the core and inner cities , in which in western industrialized countries with mostly increasing individual space requirements and high rental / building land prices in inner city locations, a long-lasting process of residential suburbanization into the urban environs emerged, in which the land prices were lower and the availability of residential building land is also greater.
  • the image problem of the city center, which is overloaded by traffic, compared to the surrounding area, which is often seen as more attractive.
  • a significantly changed mobility behavior with simultaneous expansion of the traffic route network , the expansion of local public transport and the greatly increased motorization . Since increased mobility and, more recently, digital communication media no longer require immediate proximity to the workplace, child-friendly surroundings, a high quality of living and living, a green living environment, proximity to leisure facilities and the attractiveness of the landscape play an increasingly important role.

The so-called “autochthonous suburbanization” is a special form of suburbanization. Here the local population gives up agriculture as the basis of their livelihood and takes a job in the city center, which does not result in a population redistribution, but in a change in lifestyle.

In recent times, the process of suburbanization has been reversed (so-called reurbanization ): groups with higher incomes are again preferring residential areas in the core cities, which are becoming more attractive.


Economic and fiscal consequences

Decay on the outskirts of downtown, here in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The direct consequences are commuter flows between places of residence and workplaces, which are often still in the city, which leads to travel costs, loss of time and environmental pollution. In addition, the landscape is sprawled, a so-called " bacon belt " is formed around the city.

Since the political city limits or even the national borders are often left, the city tax revenues shrink . Income tax portion and other taxes flow instead to the district . Nevertheless, it is expected that the core city will maintain its infrastructure and even adapt to the growing traffic flows . Vacancies are to be eliminated and replaced by attractive ones. But it can also happen that suburbs of large cities become pure residential communities. Infrastructure such as shopping facilities cannot hold their own, as the residents do their shopping in the city and thus there is no tax revenue in the small community. In addition, the price of land can rise very high, so that the traditional population cannot expand for cost reasons. As a result, it can lead to segregation of the population (eg. As by state or income come). Under such framework conditions there is also the risk of slums forming .

Ecological consequences

Due to the growth of the settlement and traffic area, open space close to the city with its ecological functions ( fresh air corridors , cold air formation, biotope network , groundwater regeneration , etc.) and recreational function as well as landscape is lost. As a result, the urban climate is negatively affected. The mostly sparsely built-up areas will cause high follow-up infrastructure costs for the communities in the future, as lines, roads or social facilities have to be rebuilt.

However, the rather heterogeneous suburbia is better suited as a habitat for many smaller animal and plant species than large mono-agricultural areas or the sealed core cities.

Social and psychological consequences

The suburban belts are also subject to the trend towards social segregation . Both ethnic ghettos and gated communities can be found here . The quality of life in the suburbia has been the subject of sociological and psychological discussions for decades. Since the 1970s, there have been several scientifically supported statements that residents of suburban settlements are less satisfied with their social isolation and living conditions than residents of core cities. Films like American Beauty added to the suburbs' bad name.

Other analyzes based on US census data have shown ambivalent or even positive results for the suburbia : For example, a high population density in a small area, as is typical for core cities but not for residential suburbs, statistically increases the rate of depression and dissatisfaction with the Neighborhood. A high rate of depression can also be recorded in affluent neighborhoods, but this is by no means characteristic of all residential suburbs.

Since around 2008, however, an opioid epidemic as a result of pain medication abuse has spread, especially in the suburbs inhabited by whites. Many of the drug deaths have become addicted to prescribed pain relievers containing opiates and have become impoverished because of the high cost of the drugs, so they switch to the cheaper heroin . Many smaller cities and suburbs on the east coast, the south, the Midwest and California are affected, which for the first time reduced the average life expectancy of white men.


According to Marcus Felson , the tendency towards suburbanization is spreading a type of urbanity that he describes as a diverging metropolis . It is characterized by a high dispersion of everyday activities, which is reflected in frequent absences from one's own household due to work and transport times, less frequent interactions with neighbors, the increase in large monofunctional areas (e.g. streets, parking lots, shopping centers) and the segregation of everyday activities Expresses criteria of social class and age. This process has led to the gradual destruction of the fine-meshed network of informal social control, which is based on identification with local communities, and thus encouraged the increase in property and violent crime. This is withdrawing from the city centers and relocating to Suburbia.

Counter tendencies

As a result of the increased use and price of resources in the metropolitan areas, not only residents but also businesses are migrating to the surrounding area. As a result, the suburbs and dormitories lose their suburban character and develop into partially autonomous sub-centers, which, however, requires greater investments in settlement planning and infrastructure. So Teltow currently (2017) the fastest growing medium-sized town in Germany.

Control options

Today attempts are being made to counteract suburbanization in Germany and other industrialized countries, as it increases urban sprawl and land consumption increases both directly and indirectly (traffic). Balancing the burden for the construction and maintenance of infrastructure between the core city and the suburban area is also becoming an increasing problem. As a spatial planning counter-concept to suburbanization, the principle of decentralized concentration is used in the spatial planning of the Federal Republic of Germany . Control options for the suburbanization process are:

  • Approaches at the state planning level and regional planning level (state development plan , regional plans),
  • Approaches at the technical planning level (e.g. in settlement, nature conservation or trade ),
  • Approaches at the municipal level:
    • Intermunicipal cooperation is important here, as suburbanization is seldom limited to the area of ​​a city, for example in the context of intermunicipal transport or settlement planning.
  • Approaches fiscal nature (eg., Via the municipal financial compensation , abolition of the traveling allowance , petrol tax increase).

In order to reduce the consumption of settlement areas and to reduce sealing, market-based instruments are also being discussed to supplement planning law. In its final report published in 1998, the Enquête Commission of the German Bundestag for the Protection of Man and the Environment names the land value and land area tax proposed by Difu in 1995, the trade in land designation rights or the levying of a staggered charge on sealing previously unsealed areas. These instruments have not yet been implemented.

See also


  • Klaus Schäfer (Ed.): Departure from the Zwischenstadt. Urbanization through migration and mixed use. transcript, Bielefeld 2018, ISBN 978-3-8376-4365-7 .
  • Simon I. Singer: America's Safest City: Delinquency and Modernity in Suburbia. NYU Press, New York 2014, ISBN 9780814760536 .
  • Wolf Gaebe: Urban Spaces (= UTB. 2511). Ulmer, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-8252-2511-9 .
  • Matthias Hardinghaus: On the American development of the city. A contribution to the cultural genesis of the city suburb phenomenon with special consideration of Protestant-Calvinist models. Lang, Frankfurt am Main a. a. 2004, ISBN 3-631-52529-X (also: Weimar, Universität, dissertation, 2003).
  • Hartmut Häußermann , Walter Siebel : urban sociology. An introduction. Campus, Frankfurt am Main u. a. 2004, ISBN 3-593-37497-8 .
  • Klaus Brake, Jens S. Dangschat, Günter Herfert (eds.): Suburbanization in Germany. Current trends. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 2001, ISBN 3-8100-3172-0 .
  • Saskia Sassen : metropolises of the world market. The new role of global cities. Campus, Frankfurt am Main u. a. 1996, ISBN 3-593-35459-4 .
  • Federal Ministry of Economics, Public Relations Department (Hrsg.): The information society. BMWI report. Facts, analyzes, trends. 1995- *, ZDB -ID 1502463-5 .
  • Jürgen Friedrichs: Urban Sociology. Leske + Budrich, Opladen 1995, ISBN 3-8100-1409-5 .
  • Jürgen Friedrichs : City Analysis. Social and spatial organization of society (= WV-Studium. Vol. 104). 3. Edition. Westdeutscher Verlag, Opladen 1983, ISBN 3-531-22104-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Suburbanization  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Suburbanization. In: Spectrum Lexicon Geography [1] .
  2. Becky Nikolaidis, Andrew Wiese: Suburbanization in the United States after 1945. Oxford Research Encyclopaedia 2017 Online
  3. Kiril Stanilov (ed.): The Post-Socialist City. Urban Form and Space Transformations in Central and Eastern Europe after Socialism. Springer 2007.
  4. Helmut Vogel: Suburbanization. Lecture. University of Trier 2010 PDF file , p. 4.
  5. ^ Richard D. Adams: Is Happiness a Home in the Suburbs? The Influence of Urban versus Suburban Neighborhood on Psychological Health. Journal of Community Psychology, 20 (1992) 4, pp. 353-372.
  6. ^ J. Eric Oliver: Mental Life and the Metropolis in Suburban America. Paper, University of Chicago (PDF) , undated
  7. New Face of Heroin Is Young, White and Suburban, Study Finds. NBC News , May 27, 2014.
  8. ^ Rates of Drug Use: Urban, Suburban, & Rural. Sunrise House , undated
  9. M. Felson: Crime and Everyday Life. Sage Publications, 1994.
  10. Sustainability concept , Bundestag printed paper 13/11200, p. 160 ff. (PDF file)