In the U.S., as with many other places, the industrial era saw a massive exodus from rural areas into cities.  The “information era” (or whatever buzzword you like) has seen a massive exodus from cities to suburbs and exurbs, with long commutes to work, sprawling colonies of large homes, strip malls, and cars, cars, cars.  Now, the mere fact of such a large exodus would seem to indicate that Americans prefer such a lifestyle (despite the fact that it may be killing them.)

But according to a new survey conducted by Smart Growth America in conjunction with the National Association of Realtors, it is not so.Their survey of 1,130 Americans is summarized thusly:

“Realtors don’t just sell homes, we sell communities and neighborhoods,” said NAR President Walt McDonald, broker-owner of Walt McDonald Real Estate in Riverside, Calif. “This survey shows that most Americans prefer to live in walkable communities with a shorter commutes, sidewalks and amenities close by, a trend Realtors have seen first-hand. Smart growth communities are the wave of the future, especially since they’re heavily favored by prospective buyers and minorities, who represent a growing share of the homebuying market.”

All donations matched! Reader support helps sustain our work. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

So, on one hand we have ongoing sprawl, and on the other a survey saying people don’t want it.  What’s the enterprising info-gatherer to conclude?  Either

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

  • market forces are working properly, people are expressing their free choices and getting what they want, and the survey is wrong — too small a sample size, too skewed a sample population, biases built into the questions, or some such flaw; or
  • people would rather avoid sprawl and live in dense, walkable communities, but there are forces skewing the market, preventing them from choosing on a level playing field.  Don Chen, executive director of Smart Growth America, suggests something along these lines:

    In too many places, the choices are being made for them by a system of out-moded regulations that makes it hard to build great, affordable neighborhoods in the places where people need the housing, and easier to do it in distant locations.

I personally know very little about the real estate market, and wouldn’t leave my beloved in-city townhouse for any amount of land, so I couldn’t say which is right.  Any thoughts, dear readers?