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Only 13% of Americans Want to Live in Dense Urban Places

(p. A8) Strict growth limits have driven population and job growth further out, in part by raising the price of land within the growth boundary, to communities across the Columbia River in Washington state and to distant places in Oregon. Suburbia has not been crushed, but simply pushed farther away. Portland's dispersing trend appears to have intensified since 2000: The city's population growth has slowed considerably, and 95% of regional population increase has taken place outside the city limits.

This experience may soon be repeated elsewhere as planners and self-proclaimed visionaries run up against people's aspirations for a single-family home and low-to-moderate-density environment. Such desires may constitute, as late Robert Moses once noted, "details too intimate" to merit the attention of the university-trained. Even around cities like Paris, London, Toronto and Tokyo -- all places with a strong tradition of central planning -- growth continues to follow the preference of citizens to look for lower-density communities. High energy prices and convenient transit have not stopped most of these cities from continuing to lose population to their ever-expanding suburban rings.

But nowhere is this commitment to low-density living greater than in the U.S. Roughly 51% of Americans, according to recent polls, prefer to live in the suburbs, while only 13% opt for life in a dense urban place. A third would go for an even more low-density existence in the countryside. The preference for suburban-style living continues to be particularly strong among younger families. Market trends parallel these opinions. Despite widespread media exposure about a massive "return to the city," demographic data suggest that the tide continues to go out toward suburbia, which now accounts for two-thirds of the population in our large metropolitan areas. Since 2000, suburbs have accounted for 85% of all growth in these areas. And much of the growth credited to "cities" has actually taken place in the totally suburb-like fringes of places like Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.

. . .

It is time politicians recognized how their constituents actually want to live. If not, they will only hurt their communities, and force aspiring middle-class families to migrate ever further out to the periphery for the privacy, personal space and ownership that constitutes the basis of their common dreams.

For the full article, see:

JOEL KOTKIN. "The War Against Suburbia." The Wall Street Journal (Sat., January 14, 2006): A8.


For more of Kotkin's observations, it might be worth consulting his: The City: A Global History. Modern Library, 2005.




Comments

Kotkin's op-ed is full of holes. The survey he refers to (by Smart Growth America) says that 33% of Americans want to live in suburbs in or near a city, not 51%. Inner-city suburbs make sense, because they are densely-built (think Brooklyn brownstones or San Francisco Victorians) and planners don't fight them. Only 18% said they'd like to live in outer suburbs, which is the majority of what is being built because that's where the only available land is, and they are major wasters of resources. The infrastructure doesn't pay for itself, especially the sprawling highways. Also, those suburbs are already there for those people. People are leaving the inner cities because there's not enough affordable housing there, so the plan is to build more, denser housing in the cities and areas around transit. Nobody's going to force those who want to live in single-family homes to live in an apartment. But we should be building for those other people who want to live around transit in denser environments because it'll make life better for everyone.

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