"Communities need to make active decisions about where and how to grow if they are going to protect their quality of life," Joseph Riley, mayor, Charleston, SC.
After a virtual walk down the streets of National Geographic's new "new urbanist" neighborhood online it's surprising that major real estate entities are still churning out surveys that insist the bigger-is-better, suburban hinterland-home motif is still, well, large.
Even if sufficient land existed to build thousands of more Levittowns in major metropolitan areas and even if hundreds of Las Vegas deserts remained to be built out to the horizon, the rate of population growth alone indicates a time will come when the new urbanists' movement simply won't be an option.
The nation has a finite land supply and like it or not, today's new urbanism will one day become old hat for tomorrow's builders. In some areas that's already happening.
Unfortunately, a recent real estate industry survey that could have shed some light got lost in time and failed to accurately portray housing's future.
"Polls take a snapshot of what is happening today. But what is more important for city and regional planners is where we are going tomorrow," says Stephen Bodzin, spokesman for the San Francisco-based Congress for New Urbanism.
On April 20, two of the nation's largest trade groups, the National Association of Realtors and the National Association of Home Builders released a survey, simply called"Consumers Survey" that said home owners are more interested in highway access than sidewalks on both sides of the street, than park areas, than playgrounds, than shops within walking distance, than access to public transportation.
Survey respondents preferred larger homes over a home closer to work, over shopping, over public transportation and over walkable locations. They also most often wanted "houses spread out" and they wanted to live in "outlying areas" or partially developed suburbs.
You'd think it was 1950.
Actually, the survey was a bit of a blast from the past.
A full 76 percent of those surveyed were single-family homeowners. All of the 2000 respondents had purchased a primary residence within the last 48 months, 58 percent were on their second single-family home and most of them were 45 or older (born around 1950) with incomes of $50,000 or more.
Never mind that baby boomers comprise less than 30 percent of the population.
Never mind that only about 60 percent of all homes standing in America today are single-family detached homes, according to the U.S. Census' "Profile of Selected Housing Characteristics: 2000".
And never mind that the percentage of single-family detached home ownership has been slowly but steadily eroding for four decades, according to "Historical Census of Housing Tables Units in Structure".
The painfully obvious slant to the survey yielded loopy, schizophrenic, eat-my-cake-and-have-it-too results that found new home buyers justifying what's likely the largest financial commitment of their life by asking for still larger and yet more remote living conditions all the while feeling guilty about sprawl.
In addition to wanting larger homes further from work, they also wanted lower property taxes, less traffic in the neighborhood, they wanted environmentally friendly construction but weren't willing to pay for it yet most of those surveyed think urban sprawl is a very serious problem or somewhat of a problem.
Property taxes help pay for the schools, infrastructure and the environmentally friendly development way out yonder. The further more people are from work, the more they'll have to drive to work and the more they'll increase traffic. It's all been scientifically documented.
Take another look at National Geographic's "new urbanist" neighborhood.
Select a survey sample comprised of an equal number of house holds types based on their true representation in the housing population. Choose renters as well as owners, multi-family dwellers as well as single-family home owners. Inform them of the variety of housing options that exist and the pros and cons of each.
Then conduct a fair and impartial survey and let the results truly speak for themselves.
Otherwise, what's the point?
"People can't say they want it if they don't know it exists. Without visual examples and extensive descriptions, it makes no sense to ask whether people would like to live in walkable, mixed-use new developments," said Bodzin.
- Click Here ( Building Codes, Zoning Laws, Real Estate Law and Attorney Information and Advice ) to read a response to this article from the National Association of Home Builders