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.”

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

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  • 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?