“Why Are Developers Still Building Sprawl? Boomers and Millennials say they want to live in compact, walkable developments, but builders are putting their money into suburban McMansions.”
This is something that’s been grinding my gears for years.
People like space. They want to live like they want to live. Their buying habits and especially the home they buy – the biggest investment most people make – reflects this. Urban living is great for singles, but once people have kids they want to get away from the noise of the city and get closer to good schools, safer neighborhoods and the quieter life that suburbs offer.
I’m not saying that’s everyone, but that’s certainly the majority of people.
Yet invariably control freak urban planners want to push this idea that everyone wants high-density, compact, mass transit living. And instead of looking at what people are buying and realizing they buy what it is they want, these harridans of urban living try to explain the results of the market away.
Buyers were brainwashed. Zoning regulations are biased. Migration away from urban centers is the R word.
And of course, they bring environmental blackmailing into it.
Urban planners and “smart growth” advocates argue that builders should eschew the practice of buying empty land further and further out and building on it, and should instead build more compact, walkable communities near public transit, rehabbing existing land to fit new projects. Doing so is important for the environment, they say, and will save valuable resources and money in the long run.
Gonna go out on a limb here and say that if you’re a developer, putting tens or hundreds of millions into a development, you want to build what people will buy. And so you do. And so they do.
But the commissars of central urban planning and housing density just won’t believe it.
Homebuyers want something new, they say, but builders aren’t listening, and keep building more sprawl.
“I think that the building industry has been incredibly resilient at resisting change,” says Chris Leinberger, a land-use strategist who is also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “It’s somewhat akin to carriage makers not wanting to shift to making cars.”
They should amend Leinberger's description to “a land-use strategist who has exactly zero money invested in development.”
Now, if I brought up the notion that the attempt to strong-arm developers and homebuyers into centrally planned, Mexico-city style density comes from something like, oh, say, environmental extremists or, gasp, the United Nations – which doesn’t like much of anything that Americans do – then you’d rightly call me a fringe kook.
So instead, I’ll let The Atlantic bring it up:
It’s not just urban planners who think developers should be thinking more sustainably. The United Nations, in 1992, got 178 countries (including the U.S.) to sign onto Agenda 21, pledging to promote sustainable development, investment in infrastructure, and the rehabbing of old buildings, among other things.
Nothing to see there. No political agenda - designed by alien thinking and contrary to the free market - at work at all. Ignore the man behind the curtain.
The thing is, despite the stereotype of Millennials and others wanting all this miserable density and smaller homes, the actual surveys – much less the sales figures – show exactly the opposite.
Americans want elbowroom, Trulia finds.
Last year, we found that Baby Boomers were especially unlikely to live in multi-unit housing. At the same time, we noted that the share of seniors living in multi-unit housing rather than single-family homes has been shrinking for decades. These findings got us thinking about how the generations vary in house-size preference. So we surveyed over 2000 people at the end of last year to figure out if boomers have different house-size preferences than their younger counterparts. And that led us to ask: What size homes do Americans really want?
As a whole, Americans are living in a world of mismatch – only 40% of our respondents said they are living in the size home that’s ideal. Furthermore, over 43% answered that the size of their ideal residence is somewhat or much larger than their current digs. Only 16% told us that their ideal residence is smaller than their existing home. However, these overall figures mask what is going on within different generations.
It’s natural to think that baby boomers are the generation most likely to downsize. After all, their nests are emptying and they may move when they retire. As it turns out though, more boomers would prefer to live in a larger home than a smaller one: 21% said their ideal residence is smaller than their current home, while 26% wanted a larger home – a 5-percentage-point difference. Clearly, boomers don’t feel a massive yearn to downsize. On the contrary, just over half (53%) said they’re already living in their ideally sized home. Nonetheless, members of this generation are more likely to want to downsize than millennials and GenXers.
In fact, those younger generations want some elbow room. First, the millennials. They’re looking to move on up by a big margin: just over 60% told us their ideal residence is larger than where they live now – the largest proportion among the generations in our sample. By contrast, only a little over 13% of millennials said they’d rather have a smaller home than their existing one – which is also the smallest among the generations in our sample. The results are clear: millennials are much more likely to want to upsize than downsize.
And you know what? There’s nothing wrong with that.
If the whole idea of America is letting people be free to live how they want – that’s what’s happening, and that's what's supposed to happen. Builders are building what sells. Buyers are buying what they want. The - trigger warning! - free market is sorting it out.
And that just drives the density-preaching, central-planning dimwits crazy. They are just certain they know how you should live and how you should spend your money.
Mediocre people like that always are.
If these people are so sure they know what buyers want - fine. Build a development business. Get investors. Build it, and they will come. Put your own money on the line. Then we'll know you're serious.