Having become something of a junkie who overdoses on political and economic news, it is only natural that I try to help justify that time investment by scouring the news for tidbits that have professional relevance. Just this past week several things have come across my monitor that have made me reflect.
BusinessWeek ranks Portland at top of "unhappiest cities" list
Then there was the report from EPA.
"Washington, D.C. - Feb. 27, 2009EPA is today releasing a new report Residential Construction Trends in Americas Metropolitan Region which examines building trends in the 50 largest metropolitan areas from 1990 to 2007. The report shows that while a large share of new residential construction still takes place on previously undeveloped land at the urban fringe, more than half of the county's larger metro regions have seen a sharp increase in residential building in urban core areas. EPA believes this trend reflects growing appreciation in many communities for smart growth development that reuses already developed property and infrastructure, protects air and water quality, and preserves natural lands and critical environmental areas." http://www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/construction_trends.htm
The descriptive report was interesting and well qualified, unlike the interpretative comments in the press release that ascribed a motivation to this short term trend absent any data to draw that conclusion. It will be interesting to see what happens when the housing market stabilizes.
Finally, the Pew Center released a January 2009 report on where people like to live.
A new national survey by the Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project finds that nearly half (46%) of the public would rather live in a different type of community from the one they're living in now- a sentiment that is most prevalent among city dwellers. When asked about specific metropolitan areas where they would like to live, respondents rank Denver, San Diego and Seattle at the top of a list of 30 cities, and Detroit, Cleveland and Cincinnati at the bottom. Other survey findings include:
• Americans are all over the map in their views about their ideal community type: 30% say they would most like to live in a small town, 25% in a suburb, 23% in a city and 21% in a rural area.
• By a ratio of more than three-to-one, Americans prefer living where the pace of life is slow, not fast. A similarly lopsided majority prefer a place where neighbors know each other well to one where neighbors don't generally know each other's business.
For Nearly Half of America, Grass Is Greener Somewhere Else, January 29, 2009
So what does this all mean? No evidence of a stampede to get back to the city. Future residential locations will be determined by some combination of consumer preferences, developer and financial interests and the impact of planners and government policy and regulation. While the development community is unlikely to get to far askew of the consumer for any length of time, the greatest uncertainty will be the role of government in either changing consumer preferences, prescribing a future oblivious to those preferences, or responding to those preferences and planning so as to help in realizing those preferences.
It promises to be interesting.
P.S. By the way, Portland ranked better in the Pew survey, 8th most popular, but well below Tampa.