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Study: Actually, Los Angeles Isn't Very Suburban at All

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Despite Los Angeles's sprawly reputation and lingering love of single-family houses, the stats shows that it's actually pretty damn urban and not very suburban at all. Economist Jed Kolko, writing at FiveThirtyEight, points out that much of the data about cities in the US is gathered in a way that makes it hard to figure out quite how city-like they really are. So to get a better idea of which places are actually just giant clusters of car-dependent, single-family neighborhoods and which are urban in the "high-rise-and-subways, 'Sesame Street' sense," Kolko conducted his own nationwide survey.

The US Census has an "exhaustive" list of "other" geographic areas, but "urban" generally just comes down to "not rural." And that means that dense urban areas and suburbs are grouped together like they're the same thing. To get a more nuanced picture of what's going on in US "cities," Kolko and real estate listings site Trulia (where Kolko is head economist) surveyed more than 2,000 people across the country, asking them to describe where they lived as either urban, rural, or suburban—and purposely did not give definitions for those terms. They then tied that respondent's answer to their zip code, which was treated as that person's "neighborhood."

Kolko and Trulia found that the best indicator of which term a person would use to describe their neighborhood was density. The dividing line for most people between urban and suburban was at 2,213 households per square mile (roughly the density of Woodland Hills): anything over that was usually called urban; under that was usually called suburban. Respondents living in zip codes with less than 102 households per square mile typically considered the area rural.

Using these parameters, they then classified major US cities and found that Los Angeles is 87 percent urban, making it the second most citylike in the country. It's not quite New-York-urban (100 percent), but still more than most might expect (*not more than Chicago or Philadelphia, as previously written!). But Los Angeles is already known to be the least sprawling of the largest metros, and has been called the "biggest success story" in terms of anti-sprawl. It's even moving away from single-family living. So maybe it's time for those expectations to change.
· How Suburban Are Big American Cities? [FTE]
· Los Angeles is the Least Sprawling Big City in the US [Curbed LA]
· Los Angeles is the Biggest Anti-Sprawl Success Story in the US [Curbed LA]