Urban Fold

Satisfied in the Suburb

According to the Pew Research Center, suburban dwellers are the most content with where they live, despite reports that also find that suburbs are not regarded the most ideal places to live.

"A deeper look at these data suggests the significant role that demography plays in shaping how residents view their communities. And it also highlights the very different lives that America's haves and have-nots are living, down to the stark differences in their perceptions of the quality of the neighborhoods they call home.

Affluent Americans tend to be big boosters of their communities, giving them top marks as places to live, work and raise families. This finding is not surprising: the affluent can afford to live in more desirable communities, and these communities, in turn, can afford to offer more and better services and amenities to their residents. But the degree to which money matters is notable. Fully half (51%) of all adults with family incomes of $100,000 a year or more give their community top ratings, compared with just a quarter of those earning less than $50,000. Similarly, college graduates are twice as likely as those with a high school degree or less education to express high levels of community satisfaction (46% vs. 23%).

Significantly, a larger share of college graduates as well as adults earning $100,000 a year or more live in the suburbs than in cities, small towns or rural areas -- little wonder, then, that community satisfaction is highest in suburban communities."

Full Story: Suburbs Not Most Popular, But Suburbanites Most Content



Suburbia is Unsustainable

Perception of crime rate and school quality are quite important for most home-buyers, and these qualities are, rightly or wrongly, associated with suburbs in peoples' minds (Myers and Gearin, "Current Preferences and Future Demand for Denser Residential Environments", Housing Policy Debate, 2001, p. 642).

How many of these home-buyers actually determine safety and school quality objectively? It's an open question, but I'd say anecdotal evidence suggests not too many.

Meanwhile suburbia continues to be unsustainable: it's generally so spread out that most people feel obligated to drive everywhere, which is a huge factor in climate change, smog, and traffic. Providing infrastructure (e.g. roads, sewers) to the burbs is more expensive per capita than providing it to cities.

I may be preaching to the choir on this site, but it's worth repeating: compact, mixed-use development makes a lot of sense. Of course this is relative. In many parts of the country it could be something as innocuous as 6 suburban houses per acre instead of 4 or 2.

But if you really want the advantages of density, I say go up a few floors, or at least allow more two-story apartment buildings or granny flats in existing suburbs. It's not an attack on home ownership: that's what condos and co-ops are for.

The challenge is getting larger numbers of people to embrace these ideas.

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