Given the choice, people will rarely choose “less” over “more”, even if “less” has promise to be better than “more”. For so long this North American society has had more space, more freedom, more cars, more flexibility, and “more” was better in many ways, as people left the troubled inner cities for the safety of the suburbs.
Now, even though many people are moving back to the city, this outdated mindset persists even now because the assurances of positive change are not yet strong enough. For an example, it is well documented that people will put down roots near a train station versus a bus station. because there is an assurance of perceived permanence.
In settlement terms, people are likely to commit to staying in the cities through various stages of life if there is assurance that the city is getting better. If there are assurances that an improving community will continue to improve, and if the necessary incremental changes to the city at the neighborhood scale will not be overturned at a later date.
Without these assurances, it is every man for himself. If I cannot attempt to reconcile a desire for urban connectivity and amenities with a desire to have children grow up in a safe environment with adequate space, and if I have no hope that the urban environments available to me are moving in that direction, then the suburbs win out. The suburbs should not win out simply because urban environments are underserved for common/park space, and because they don’t have the proper housing stock to progress through life in the same neighborhood.
People will not choose less over more, but they will often choose “less with potential” over “more”. Giving people reason to hope for positive change in their neighborhood is one of the first steps to building stronger, more livable cities.