Community density, diversity, and the American Dream


With Detroit's bankruptcy news, plenty of chatter has surrounded the aspect of city density and how an area's sprawl affects social mobility across the country. To understand the health and reality of the "American Dream" of mobility (though we could argue that definition all day) in post-recession 2013, we need to look geographically. New research suggests where you're raised matters just as much as at-home factors that come to mind first. The New York Times published a geographic look at the issue, asking if sprawl kills the rags-to-riches potential in the United States.

"...the researchers identified four broad factors that appeared to affect income mobility, including the size and dispersion of the local middle class. All else being equal, upward mobility tended to be higher in metropolitan areas where poor families were more dispersed among mixed-income neighborhoods..."


The study found factors such as community involvement and quality of schools matter more than taxes and the price of college. Many argue that dense, well-connected cities present more opportunities for social mobility; however, less populated places like the Dakotas and the Mountain states offer extremely strong growth potential.

In major cities, a look at density and mobility shows an interesting correlation:

For the complete story (and a look at the many variables in this study), dive into the debate going on over at The Atlantic. We welcome your ideas.

Image Credit: Joe Campbell on