1800 Block of 14th Street NW, June 18
1800 Block of 14th Street NW, June 18

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Urbanists are making inroads! Sort of. A new survey from the National Association of Realtors discovers what a lot of us already knew: Even though smart growth is gaining popularity, people want to live where they already live. But there’s good news; when presented with two hypothetical communities—one sprawling and one smart—people tend to go with the more sustainable one.

When selecting a community, nearly half of the public (47 percent) would prefer to live in a city (19 percent) or a suburban neighborhood with a mix of houses, shops, and businesses (28 percent). Another four in ten (40 percent) would prefer a rural area (22 percent) or a small town (18 percent). Only one in ten (12 percent) say they would prefer a suburban neighborhood with houses only.

Also of particular interest are the findings about what various types of Americans prefer:

  • Younger people who are unmarried tend to prefer the convenience of smart growth, walkable communities. Subdivision-type communities appeal more to middle-aged, married couples.
  • Political views are predictive of what type of communities Americans prefer.  Democrats and liberals tend to prefer smart growth-type communities, while Republicans and conservatives are more likely to favor sprawl-type communities.
  • In general, adults’ current housing situations reflect their preferences.  Those who live in housing-only suburbs, small towns, and rural areas prefer more spread out, less walkable communities, whereas urban residents and those who live in suburbs with a mix of housing and businesses prefer more walkable, smart growth-type communities.
  • Those on both ends of the socio-economic scale tend to prefer smart growth communities while those in the middle are more drawn to sprawl-type communities.

Above all, though, Americans really like privacy, and they’ll give up smart growth for it. Which means they’d pick a detached home on its own lot in the suburbs over a rowhouse or condo in a walkable neighborhood. Anyway, there’s lots more to the survey: Dig in.

Photo by Mike Hicks