I wonder what cityscapes in America will look like in thirty or fifty years. Many cities across the country are seeing a resurgence of economic investment in the urban core and immediate growth rings. Since the financial crisis of 2008 and the ensuing Great Recession evidence has begun to pop up supporting a more significant loss of home values in remote suburban and exurban communities versus closer-in communities. As obstacles to home-ownership rose following the Great Recession, developers began to invest heavily in mutli-family real estate assets that would meet the growing demand for rental property. The absence of cheap and available money for home loans has helped recast the value proposition of housing in the United States in favor of denser living.
Card-carrying environmentalists of all stripes often find common ground promoting denser living within cities as a means to reduce the impact of humans on a landscape. From a seat on a busy Tokyo subway car the shift away from a petroleum-based economy appears far closer than it does waiting in line to get on I-5 at rush-hour in Seattle. But getting a culture to reconfigure an economy and settlement patterns is a tall order. Even as politicians espouse the benefits of high-density living, mass-transit, walkable cityscapes and a connected culture, a wave of resistance can be heard from people promoting the value of more secluded and separate living.
People make housing decisions for a variety of reasons – money playing a big role. Housing is also a significant player in an American’s identity. People make broad and significant assumptions about who you are by where you live, what kind of home you live in and what you prioritize in the decision process. A lot of these decisions are imbedded in how we grew up, too. I grew up in a single-family, detached home in a quiet neighborhood in the Midwest. I have relocated, but think most seriously about spending a large part of my adult life in a similar dwelling in a similar neighborhood. Many who grew up in a housing development in the suburbs feel good about recreating that for their own adulthood. It is not until large macroeconomic challenges force a significant portion of the population to revisit these implicit assumptions about our dreams that denser living becomes palatable. I wonder if there is point at which the scales tip and a critical mass of our society has been exposed to or is forced into a denser living situation. Will this sudden influx of denser housing influence the next generation of young people to reconsider the car culture of America and dream of that 5th floor flat on the corner over the coffee shop instead of the home in the suburbs with the three-car garage? Current housing price statistics make me think so.