Americans prefer smart growth to sprawl, Realtor study finds
A new survey from the industry group National Association of Realtors finds a majority of Americans prefer living in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods to living in auto-oriented suburbs.
That’s the conclusion the association is touting, anyway. Below that top-line finding, however, the survey finds a long-standing split between folks drawn to smart growth-style urban ‘hoods and suburbia.
Fifty-six percent of respondents said they preferred smart growth, defined as places where businesses, shops and restaurants are within walking distance of homes. Forty-three percent, after reading descriptions of two types of neighborhoods, chose ones containing only single-family houses on large lots within driving distance to amenities. That group was even willing to forego sidewalks, a consistently popular neighborhood feature.
Does that mean homebuilders are safe building more outer-ring subdivisions along with urban condos and compact homes? Probably not. When you match up survey preferences with the country’s available building stock, it’s clear there’s a shortage in walkable smart growth housing.
Christopher Leinberger, a University of Michigan real-estate scholar and author of The Option of Urbanism, estimates that high demand has put a 40 to 200 percent price premium on such housing, on a square foot basis.
The implication is that developers are better off focusing on the under-served 56 percent of the market. Ron Phipps, president of the realtors association, said real estate agents should take note too.
“Realtors care about improving communities through smart growth initiatives,” he said in a news release. “Our members don’t just sell homes, they sell neighborhoods. Realtors understand that different home buyers are looking for all kinds of neighborhood settings and that many home buyers want walkable, transit-accessible communities.”
The online survey of 2,071 adults nationwide was conducted in February by the polling firm Knowledge Networks and has been weighted by gender, age, race, geographical region, metropolitan status and internet access. The margin of sampling error is 2.2 percent.
One more caveat: the 56 percent finding may be understating demand for smart growth, because it assumes that commute times are the same for either type of location. Research from Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology finds that smart growth neighborhoods correspond to shorter commute times. And 59 percent of participants in the realtors survey say shorter commutes are something they desire, even if they have to live in a smaller home on a smaller lot to get them.
The survey found people want more of a lot of things in their neighborhoods – sidewalks, restaurants and shops within walking distance, places to bike and exercise, even low-income housing. The most popular new amenity, though, was more public transportation.