Well, sooner or later, you'll have to sell to the next generation, so it makes sense to be paying attention to what they think.
20 Responses to will car-dependent development have resale value?
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Let’s be careful here. Some of us “Gen Y-ers” (myself included) will pay a premium for a walkable/bikeable/busable (to abuse the English language a little) location. But many of my peers won’t. I know several people who have bought in the far-flung suburbs and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Also, remember that most Gen Y-ers are in their 20s and their opinions of where is best to live will change over the next 10 years. I hope that my generation will present a strong push towards better transportation systems, but I’m not convinced yet.
Having kids changes your priorities. Mixed income/ mixed used neighborhoods, tend to have poorly performing public schools. The reason ex-urban development has taken off so much is that those are the locations with the affordable housing with high quality public schools. The suburbs that are in trouble are the older inner suburbs. The public schools there are no better than the inner city. The yuppies who like urban living don’t like them because they think they are boring. The people who want affordable housing with high quality housing don’t like them either because the public schools don’t work well. These neighborhoods aren’t and were never designed to be transit friendly, but they are going to be the neighborhoods were the disenfranchised live (the immigrants and the poor). These are also the neighborhoods that are hurt most as public transit budgets are high jacked to build rail to cater to yuppies. In LA this process created the Bus Riders Union. I suspect we will see more of this activity in more areas as bus service budgets are raided to build more expensive low performing rail projects like various streetcar projects.
The issue of children is a big factor, obviously. Whether schools in a given neighborhood are “good” vs “bad” schools seems to me to be largely based on how able a community is able to exclude the poor. Much capital flight to the suburbs is (often not consciously) done in order to leave the poor behind in the burbs to fend for themselves–“better schools” being cited as a reason, but the sorting of municipalities by income level aggravates the problem.
It’s alarming how quickly people associate urban districts with bad schools.
One of the best public high schools in the country is Boston Latin….and you can’t get a more urban location than that.
Having kids doesn’t mean one has to live in an auto-dependent suburb. Too often the choices are portrayed as the urban core vs. the exurbs, but there are a range of living choices in between that can fulfill this need–there just aren’t enough of them. Also, if they have them, it’s likely that most millenials will postpone having kids until well into their 30s.
And what about the baby boomers in the US? The first of that generation just turned 65. How many of them have or will ditch the suburban home for a walkable neighborhood?
How about energy prices and worsening traffic congestion in metro regions? With the threat of climate change and peak oil, I suspect there aren’t many economists predicting lower energy prices in the future, and even with more hybrids and plug-ins, there isn’t highway capacity available to accommodate these additional cars.
These factors will likely turbocharge the demand for walkable urban neighborhoods even beyond the generational and demographic trends discussed above.
Future BRU Member: what city are you from? I find that the dynamic of where families with kids go can vary substantially depending on which city you look at. San Francisco, for example, has a relatively small proportion of children, while NYC, and particularly Manhattan, had a “baby boom” in the past decade or so. There are reasonably good public schools in Manhattan for elementary school, and there’s a reasonable chance of getting into a reasonably good high school, but middle school is a bit more problematic. Still, at least in NYC, the quality of public schools does not seem to be an insurmountable barrier. But this may not be the case in other cities.
anonymouse: I suspect the reason for Manhattan’s “baby boom” is that large numbers of Manhattanites are very, very wealthy. Yes, there are good elementary schools, but once your kid reaches high-school age, unless he/she can get into one of the magnet schools like Stuyvesant, it’s kind of a crapshoot. Of course, if you are a multimillionaire investment banker, you can afford to send your kid to an elite private school. Manhattan has more multimillionaire investment bankers than anywhere else in the country, and I suspect this is the reason for the “baby boom.”
Regarding the preferences of us Y-ers (I really, really wish someone could come up with a better name for my generation), I do think there is little appetite for exurban McMansions. Most people I know – myself included – see themselves raising a family in a close-in “streetcar suburb” type place, with smallish houses and yards and some walkability and transit. I’m not averse to driving, but I don’t want it to be necessary for every trip.
So, while I do think some of these proclamations are kind of ridiculous – the “preferences” discussed in the piece sound like a modified college dorm, unsurprising for a cohort that’s fresh out of school – I think the shift towards urban preferences will last, to some extent.
Walking everywhere is very nice until you have kids that need to go to daycare, school, after-school care, activities, and you have a full-time job in the suburbs (because commercial and industrial activities have been pushed out of the city core in favour of condos).
foo: driving everywhere is nice, until chauffeuring the kids around becomes a second unpaid job. One nice thing about walking is that kids can do it themselves much earlier than they can drive, and at 14 or so, kids are perfectly capable of taking the subway by themselves in NYC, while they wouldn’t be able to drive for another few years.
anonymouse: I’d much rather live in a nice walkable central neighbourhood, but a few things get in the way. One – nice walkable central neighbourhoods are designed by our friendly urban planners for childless/rich people. Two – our friendly urban planners complement the childless/rich theme by forcing commercial/industrial middle-class jobs out into the suburbs. Three – the way the school and daycare systems work, you almost always have two (or more) places to go to deliver the kids.
I agree, once kids are 12-14 they can get around by themselves, but you still have to make it through 10 years to get there. That’s why I think the Y’ers perceptions and choices will change once they have kids… Really paying attention to people means making suburbs more sustainable… But that’s not very sexy for the planning profession.
There are 45% more dogs than children in Seattle. In general the more urban the area, the less likely the area is to have children.
Conversely the ex-urban areas have some of the highest levels family formation and child raising in any metro.
What is pushing out the families from the urban areas are the public schools. While Boston has Boston Latin School, NYC has Bronx School of Science and SF has Lowell High School, all of these magnet programs are data outliers in there regions, where people moving into the area have no idea ahead of time whether there children will be admitted into the programs if they move into the urban core. So you have to budget in not just the cost of the housing, but the cost of private schools in case your kids don’t make it into the magnet programs. In the suburbs, where you move is a pretty good predictor of where your kids will go to school.
When my wife and I had kids, we left SF for Davis. Because in Davis, a college town and suburb of Sacramento, I could afford to buy a house and send my kids to highly performing Davis High where in SF I had no such assurances my kids would go to Lowell.
Income segregation and traffic are also important in terms of how safe you feel letting your kids play semi-unsupervised. When I lived in SF, I lived across the street from the North Beach housing projects. I wasn’t going to let 7 year old play in that neighborhood unsupervised by me because it was still quite unsafe. Traffic was too busy and the neighbors were totally unreliable.
In Davis, we know the other neighbors on the block and I feel comfortable with other parents in the neighborhood or even just older kids in the neighborhood monitoring how much mischief my kids are getting into.
Moreover in most of the new suburban neighborhoods, there are bike paths everywhere. In Sacramento region that is true for Davis, Roseville, Folsom, Lincoln and Rocklin. So if your kids need to go somewhere, usually they can just ride there bikes.
@Future BRU Member, thanks for the specific stories. Though, as a Stuyvesant alum, I’m a bit offended at your choice of school to represent NYC 🙂 Still, with concrete examples, it’s much easier to look at the specific problems and potential solutions.
@foo: one of the problem of suburbs is that that do often work well for smaller children, but become problematic as kids need to venture beyond their immediate neighborhoods, so suburbs are much less suitably designed for the second half of childhood.
I wonder how many commenters are Millenials/ Gen Y-ers besides myself or Vin especially those who have grown up in the suburbs as they exist today? We have largely grown up in a time where we have been witness or aware of rising suburban crime and know that you really aren’t that much more safe anywhere you live. The odds may slightly be higher in a central city, but it isn’t that much higher than out in the suburbs (NCES Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2009: Table 2.2 http://nces.ed.gov/programs/crimeindicators/crimeindicators2009/tables/table_02_2.asp).
We like to think that in the suburbs we are immune and perfectly safe amongst “friends” but more crimes are committed by someone the victim knows than a stranger and “zebra” crime is rare. I lived in a safe neighborhood in the suburbs of Miami, but me and my friends still had to wary of neighborhood pedophiles, speeding cars, and the like. In fact there were a rash of burglaries in our neighborhood where practically every house was getting hit including mine.
Not to mention student stabbings, shootings, drugs, underage drinking, bullying, suicides, and the breadth of emotional damages that result in a good portion of kids having to go see therapists. All of these things are just as likely to happen as a kid getting their iPod jacked on the subway.
Also our generation is more acute to the long term implications and costs of constantly fleeing further out than one would think. We are generally more aware of how years of various forms of segregation, discrimination, as well as politics have contributed to the current vicious cycle. Now whether everyone decides to try to do anything about it hasn’t been seen, but I do think that we will see some sort of shift as our generation gains more influence and comes of age to make crucial decisions to go along with the status quo or try to reverse patterns that may have short term benefits, but have larger long term costs.
The obvious question about school quality is, if schools are such an important factor in choosing where to live, then how come people are moving away from good-school states like Massachusetts and New Jersey and toward crap-school states like Georgia and Florida?
Um, weather? The main criticism, at least for Florida schools (which I was educated in) is their low funding.
What kind of masochist moves to Georgia, Texas, or Arizona for the weather?
Alon: cost of living, primarily. Also, if you’re evaluating schools, you’d probably have to look at migration on a district-by-district basis. While Massachusetts and New Jersey overall have better schools that Georgia and Florida, I’m sure it varies quite a lot by district.
First, its a lot easier to get any type of housing project approved in Georgia or Florida than in New Jersey and Massachusetts. For a lot of people if they want to buy a home, that means moving to a place where they can afford to build a home. The second issue is what kind of life you can afford in different locations. In NYC if you have the skill set to be an investment banker, you can live very well in Manhattan. But if you are Physical Therapist, you might have a lot easier time buying your own home and saving money to send your kids for college in Atlanta, than in Manhattan. A big reason a Physical Therapist in New Jersey might move to Atlanta is that they can afford to send there kids to a better school in Atlanta than in New Jersey.
But I was really talking more about the in metro location decision. In a given MSA where do people with kids decide to live and why? There is a reason that the areas where you have mixed income, mixed use areas have the lowest levels of family formation in their respective regions. That reason is that for a given amount of money, these areas generally have comparatively poor public schools.
In the SF Bay Area, the average home price in SF and Marin County are well north of $700K, but the public schools in Marin are much better than the public schools in SF. Most of the public schools in Marin are in the top quintile of schools in the state, few of the public schools in SF are. Similiarly if you compare housing of the same sq footage in Oakland and Pleasanton selling for say $450k in each community, the schools your child will be attending in Pleasanton will be much better than in Oakland.
Speaking for myself, when I didn’t have kids, I really didn’t care about the quality of public schools. But once I had kids, public schools became probably the largest and most important public service that I now consume.
I see the value of car dependent development not as a generation value, but a station in life value. When you have kids, suddenly school quality matters a lot more than when you didn’t have kids. That is different than thinking that people born post 1990 just don’t want to live in the suburbs in any situation. I am pretty sure that if you asked 20 years olds in 1970, 1990 or 2011 whether they wanted to live in the suburbs or the city most 20 year olds without kids would probably say the city in all of those periods. But I also think if you asked the same question of these same people once they had kids what there preference was, the majority probably will say the suburbs. Its not a millineal, Generation Y effect. Its a difference in outcomes between people who are 20 and single vs people 30 with kids.
People my age are capable of understanding the differences in preferences when we have children, we aren’t that naive. And whether a neighborhood is car-dependent or not has no baring on whether the schools are good or not. It has more to do with the aggregation of wealth, opportunity, and student motivation. Just because it is easier to have those things in the suburbs doesn’t mean that they don’t exist in cities and it isn’t possible.
There are also regional differences. In Florida for example, all public schools are operated at the county level, so to escape a failing school system you have to move out of the county which can be pretty infeasible. Not to mention, some places have more options than your neighborhood school. In Miami for example, there are numerous magnet and public charter schools to choose from that are well performing that take kids from all over the county and are easily accessible for those who are motivated enough to get into them. So it is capable to live in South Beach, Brickell, Little Havana, or Liberty City and still send your kid to a good public school.
What the article posits is that the way we develop areas, whether it’s in the suburbs or the city, will change according to the preferences of the coming generation. So while wealth and great schools could stay in the suburbs, that doesn’t mean they have to remain car-dependent.
Whether a neighborhood is car-dependent or not has tremendous baring on whether the schools are good or not.
The best predictor of educational performance of children is the average educational attainment of the parents. Car dependent neighborhoods generally are quite income segregated. Mixed income, mixed use neighborhoods are not.
When you have a lot of poor kids attending the neighborhood school, its going to show in the test scores of the local neighborhood schools.
If you look at what happens in urban mixed income neighborhoods. The wealthy flee the public school system for private schools. The middle class are priced out of the neighborhood completely leaving the majority of people remaining in the public school system fairly poor and quite unskilled.
This is why even though the Washington DC MSA has the highest average educational attainment of any MSA in the country, the public schools inside the District itself are generally so poorly performing.
The car dependent neighborhoods are much more income segregated. Moreover other than for the poorest of the poor, at almost all other prices point if you have say $250k, $400k or $600K, that your $250k will put you in a neighborhood with a much better performing public school in a car dependent suburb than in a mixed income urban neighborhood.
I agree the Dinks, the Queers and all of those without kids might show a preference for urban living. But, I think almost everyone with kids are going to feel the pull to the suburbs.