Since the 1950’s, America has seen an explosion in suburban living, thanks to the perceived benefits of leafy streets, broad expanses of yards, low crime, affordable homes, and schools that are often excellent. Over many of those decades, the stereotype of city living was the opposite: noisy, crowded, unpredictable, and perhaps less safe.
For decades, parents have sought a home where they could raise children, while maintaining access to an economic center for shopping, restaurants, entertainment – and, often, for their job. While many Americans still choose to live in the suburbs and commute downtown (or, often, to another suburb) downtown and city living is becoming an increasingly popular option in all areas of the nation.
One indicator: More of us now say we’d prefer to live in the city or close to it, rather than in an outer suburb. And recent U.S. Census data backs this up; the growth of American cities and nearby urban areas has surpassed the growth of far-flung outer suburbs.
Some of the obvious drivers of this trend include: rising gas prices, increased traffic, and soaring commute times – especially for those who live on the outer fringes of a city and who commute in the direction of the majority of traffic, not opposite it.
Less obvious is an age-wave and demographic shift that’s transforming America. The high school graduating class of 2008 was one of the largest in American history. Those students are now graduating from college and starting to filter into apartments, in many cases in or near downtown areas.
If the high school class of 2008 behaves as its older peers have recently, after their years in a rental apartment, the logical next step is to purchase a condo or townhome — often in the same downtown location where they rented.
As Robert Shiller, the noted Yale economist, told the Associated Press, “The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us.”
And it’s not just that high school class of 2008. We’re living longer. Single people now delay marriage. Many young couples decide to postpone children. All of that means that the need for the 4 bedroom, 3-1/2 bath suburban home has also been postponed.
According to the U.S. Census, 99 of the 100 fastest-growing outer suburbs that boomed six years ago saw little growth in 2011. Of course, some of that was due to the impact of the housing slowdown that’s now reversing, but nonetheless the pattern is clear.
As gas prices continue to climb ever higher, and roads continue to fill, more and more people are moving back to the city. According to a Coldwell Banker survey, 81% of respondents cite a minimized work commute as a reason for their interest in urban living. Think of all the money you could spend on other things if you didn’t have that $60 cost at the gas pump each time you fill your car.
Across the country, city governments are putting major investment into light rail. Builders are responding. TOD (Transit-Oriented Development) locates new townhomes and condos within very short walking distance of light rail stations. TOD is both a hot buzzword in real estate and one of the fastest-growing types of housing.
The housing market has had a challenging past few years. However, all signs point to a strong, sustained recovery. The familiar cliché of real estate (“location, location, location”) has a new meaning these days. As transportation costs continue to rise, so do cranes and scaffolds surrounding an ever-growing inventory of urban condos and townhomes.
Condo residences, like those found on NewHomeSource’s sister site at www.UrbanCondoLiving.com, are now frequently referred to as “condo communities,” evidence that their developers understand the importance of creating a friendly environment for residents. Hip lobbies provide a place for residents to socialize. Fitness centers, rooftop pools, and other gathering places are increasingly common in urban high-rise condos — and often, in townhomes as well.
Shopping, entertainment and childcare options continue to grow, making it progressively easier to raise a family downtown. Urban schools are improving as money flows back to the city. All in all, things are looking up for America’s cities.
Magnificent views, reduced home maintenance, improving crime rates and schools, and freedom from total reliance on the automobile are invigorating America’s interest in downtown living. Location, location, location — indeed.
Jay McKenzie heads up content and social media for NewHomeSource.com and Builders Digital Experience. You can find him on Google+.