Suburbs as Exit, Suburbs as Entrance

29 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2007 Last revised: 17 Dec 2007


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 of 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 situates the underappreciated suburbs as entrance story within the current debates about growth management and regional governance. The exit paradigm provides a powerful normative justification for these policies. When it is stripped away, proponents are left with utilitarian arguments that are challenged by economists who argue that metropolitan fragmentation is efficiency-enhancing and that may ring hollow with suburban enterers. This Essay seeks to sound 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 The exit story is an outdated rhetorical flourish that tends to oversimplify the case for - and camouflage the complexities of - these policies, especially the distributional and transitional-fairness concerns raised by restricting suburban growth.

Keywords: sprawl, suburbs, regional government, growth controls, growth management

JEL Classification: H7, J11, K11, R14, R52

Suggested Citation

Garnett, Nicole Stelle, Suburbs as Exit, Suburbs as Entrance. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 106, 2007, Notre Dame Legal Studies Paper No. 07-22, Available at SSRN:

Nicole Stelle Garnett (Contact Author)

Notre Dame Law School ( email )

P.O. Box 780
Notre Dame, IN 46556
United States
574-631-3091 (Phone)


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