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Re: Americans want to live in big homes in the exurbs?!

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  • mdh6214
    I have a friend who owns a 1960s cookie-cutter suburban house. We were talking about different things, and, him being a double major in Econ and Finance and a
    Message 1 of 16 , Jun 8, 2002
      I have a friend who owns a 1960s cookie-cutter suburban house. We
      were talking about different things, and, him being a double major in
      Econ and Finance and a free-market nut, he posed the following
      question:

      "What makes central city areas so friggin' expensive?"

      I put a little bit of thought into it, and I think I just came up
      with an explanation why:

      Looking at those statistics below, you'd think that central city
      residences would be cheaper, since apparently, only 5% of us want to
      live in them.

      However, as many of us know, there are city ordinances that prohibit
      expansion of a central-city area. We all know about
      zoning "ordinances" that dictate minimum amounts of parking,
      distances between buildings, densities, FARs, etc. Do you think
      possibly that, since expanding high-density neighborhoods and central
      urban areas is now illegal and growth is essentially sprawl by law,
      that 5% of us who DO want central urban houses are forced into an
      artificially small market, driving prices up?

      When my family moved to Tallahassee in 1991, my parents decided on an
      early 1960s suburban house about 3 miles from downtown--an 8-minute
      walk from the city bus, and a 10-15 minute drive downtown, even
      during rush hour.

      They looked at a neighborhood with pre-WW II houses that would have
      been closer to downtown (about a mile), allowing for an instant bus
      ride or decent walk. However, they rejected these houses because they
      were too small and too expensive.

      Perhaps if developers were _allowed_ to build more of these "central
      urban" houses brand new, we'd have more of them available--bigger,
      more modern and cheaper, yet still in a mid- to high-density urban
      area we love.

      My friend had another interesting question:

      "How would people in American urban areas change their behaviors and
      lifestyles if transportation was unsubsidized?"

      He wondered if it was possible for a computer simulation of this to
      be done. Obviously, there is, and probably will not for a long time
      be, a live model of this.

      By the way, my friend is a libertarian, but unlike our friends at the
      Cato Institute, he does _not_ ignore road subsidies and pro-sprawl
      ordinances.

      Feedback to my rants welcome...

      --matt

      --- In carfree_cities@y..., "turpin" <turpin@y...> wrote:
      > So says a survey by the National Association
      > of Home Builders. Here are some quotes from
      > the article:
      >
      > "Location: Top choice was an outer suburban
      > location (37 percent), followed by rural
      > (31 percent) and close-in suburban (28
      > percent). Only 5 percent said they wanted a
      > house in a central city."
      >
      > "Space: The median size of survey
      > respondents' homes was 1,700 square feet.
      > They wanted 2,071 square feet."
      >
      > Speaking as someone whose family of three
      > lives in a 900 sq ft urban home, I must be
      > out of step. This article may drop off the
      > site in a few days, so read it soon:
      >
      > http://www.austin360.com/statesman/editions/saturday/business_1.html
    • Jym Dyer
      ... =v= We re subsidizing the suburbs. ... =v= They would clamor for subsidy. The real question is, what if the subsidy were optimized economically and
      Message 2 of 16 , Jun 8, 2002
        > "What makes central city areas so friggin' expensive?"

        =v= We're subsidizing the suburbs.

        > "How would people in American urban areas change their
        > behaviors and lifestyles if transportation was unsubsidized?"

        =v= They would clamor for subsidy. The real question is, what
        if the subsidy were optimized economically and ecologically?
        <_Jym_>
      • mdh6214
        I m still trying to figure out a way to get it through to Americans that money to build roads is not pulled out of a hat. Since Americans hate taxes so much,
        Message 3 of 16 , Jun 9, 2002
          I'm still trying to figure out a way to get it through to Americans
          that money to build roads is not pulled out of a hat. Since Americans
          hate taxes so much, all we need is a way to explain what roads do to,
          say, property taxes. Unfortunately, no elected official--or the media-
          -want to explain the truth.

          --- In carfree_cities@y..., Jym Dyer <jym@e...> wrote:
          > > "What makes central city areas so friggin' expensive?"
          >
          > =v= We're subsidizing the suburbs.
          >
          > > "How would people in American urban areas change their
          > > behaviors and lifestyles if transportation was unsubsidized?"
          >
          > =v= They would clamor for subsidy. The real question is, what
          > if the subsidy were optimized economically and ecologically?
          > <_Jym_>
        • dubluth
          Thanks for bringing this article to our attention. The features that people want from their homes are surely a central issue in implementing car free cities.
          Message 4 of 16 , Jun 9, 2002
            Thanks for bringing this article to our attention. The features that
            people want from their homes are surely a central issue in
            implementing car free cities.

            Surveys respondents, only 5% of whom said they would like to live in
            the central city, were in all likelihood thinking of cities as they
            know them with the noise and pollution of cars and the physical
            imposition of vehicles' hazardous spaces slicing through the city. A
            car-free city would be a very different creature -- full of people,
            but not congested with automobiles.

            Joel Crawford's reference design includes interior courtyards that
            include green space, though not necessarily trees, outside the
            windows of most buildings. Trees were an essential feature for 1/3
            of respondents' homes according the survey. Living area may fall
            short in the reference design as compared to respondent's desired and
            actual homes. The single family occupying a small narrow building
            described on page 169 will have floor space of 1,560 to 2,400 square
            feet if the home consists of all four floors. A family occupying
            only the upper three floors will have 1,040 to 1,800 square feet.
            This compares to the median respondent's home size of 1,700 square
            feet and desired home size of 2,071 square feet. As I understand it,
            the effect of increasing home size is reduced density and less
            effective transportation (slower transportation for a given
            population served, because of the need for more stops along a longer
            route or longer walks to reach the station)

            The floor area a home contains is one of the things that go into a
            lifestyle. By focusing in on home size, I don't mean to imply that a
            home in a car-free city would necessarily have to have the same floor
            area as a home in an auto-centric culture if both were providing the
            optimal level of service to the occupants in their respective
            environments. Home size is an important consideration because it
            influences density, and is therefore is an important feature of city
            design.

            Of course, price is a limiting factor in purchases. While that might
            seem to constrain families in the square footage they acquire, a more
            efficient transportation system that excludes cars would free up a
            tremendous amount of income, as well as time. Therefore, even in an
            urban area, the homes people could afford may be larger with the
            result that the system less dense and not as efficient, if efficiency
            is measured as passengers moved by transit in a given amount of
            time. In the auto-centric mode in which we operate, people tolerate
            significant commute times. I like the idea of making foot travel the
            source of any necessary increases in travel time that is associated
            with lower density. The rail system retains most of its efficiency
            and people get more exercise, which may not be such a bad thing.

            Bill
            >
            > http://www.austin360.com/statesman/editions/saturday/business_1.html
          • turpin
            ... My own belief is that city homes and country homes cannot be compared with regard to size. People in the exurbs -- and to some extent, the suburbs -- try
            Message 5 of 16 , Jun 10, 2002
              --- "dubluth" <dubluth@y...> wrote:
              > .. A family occupying only the upper three
              > floors will have 1,040 to 1,800 square feet.
              > This compares to the median respondent's
              > home size of 1,700 square feet and desired
              > home size of 2,071 square feet.

              My own belief is that city homes and country
              homes cannot be compared with regard to size.
              People in the exurbs -- and to some extent,
              the suburbs -- try to make their homes fully
              self sufficient. The reason for this is that
              any lapse requires them to do without or to
              make a long drive into town. In the city,
              you're surrounded by services that make this
              unnecessary.

              We have a small pantry. To cook a significant
              meal, we first visit the local grocery, which
              is five minutes to walk. They're open every
              day of the year, from 9am to 8pm. One
              Thanksgiving, Carolyn sent me three times, as
              she remembered one thing after another.

              Our house lacks picnic benches or a pool or
              tennis court. Across the block is a public
              park, whose use is free, with plenty of
              benches, a wading pool, and a regular pool
              with lap lanes. So we don't need a closet to
              store the equipment for maintenance of those.
              Public tennis courts are north of the park.
              A sculptor's museum is east of the park.

              Our dining room is too small to host more
              than six people. But if we want to throw
              a large party, there are several good
              restaurants in the neighborhood that would
              host it for us. We could then walk en masse
              back to our house, for drinks and company.
              Of course, we don't have a wet bar, so it
              might be more fun to walk to the outside
              dessert bar, two blocks south of the
              museum.

              We have no place for a video library, but
              -- you guessed it -- a video store is a
              five minute walk. The post office is a
              block away. The credit union, a ten minute
              walk.

              Maintaining a house that supplied all the
              goods and services as our neighborhood
              would require several thousand square feet,
              and a handful of servants. Maybe that makes
              sense if you're an English lord. Otherwise,
              a convenient neighborhood is the next best
              alternative. Most people have never lived
              that way, so they are not familiar with it.
            • Doug Salzmann
              In a message sent Today, turpin wrote: - - My own belief is that city homes and country - homes cannot be compared with regard to size. - People in the
              Message 6 of 16 , Jun 10, 2002
                In a message sent Today, turpin wrote:

                ->
                -> My own belief is that city homes and country
                -> homes cannot be compared with regard to size.
                -> People in the exurbs -- and to some extent,
                -> the suburbs -- try to make their homes fully
                -> self sufficient. The reason for this is that
                -> any lapse requires them to do without or to
                -> make a long drive into town. In the city,
                -> you're surrounded by services that make this
                -> unnecessary.

                Exactly. Nailed it. Right on.

                -Doug
              • Richard Risemberg
                ... When i was recently in Manhattan, I read or heard a story about a family who wanted to biuld a three-story addition to their house in their portion of the
                Message 7 of 16 , Jun 10, 2002
                  dubluth wrote:
                  >
                  > Living area may fall
                  > short in the reference design as compared to respondent's desired and
                  > actual homes. The single family occupying a small narrow building
                  > described on page 169 will have floor space of 1,560 to 2,400 square
                  > feet if the home consists of all four floors.

                  When i was recently in Manhattan, I read or heard a story about a family
                  who wanted to biuld a three-story addition to their house in their
                  portion of the interior courtyard, which most Manhattan four-stroy
                  blocks have. His neighbors were irritated, as it would block off light
                  and air and reduce teh parklike feeling of the courtyard. One neighbor,
                  who lived in a house of the same plan, commented, "He's got 14 rooms and
                  six bathrooms just like me...why does he need a three-story addition?"

                  High density housing need not be cramped.

                  Of course these are expensive digs, but the FAR and density are much
                  higher than in neighborhoods of similar economic level in Beverly
                  Hills. And there are trees and greenery.

                  Rick
                  --
                  Richard Risemberg
                  http://www.living-room.org
                  http://www.newcolonist.com

                  "Hope cannot be said to exist, nor can it be said not to exist. It is
                  just like the roads across the earth. For actually there were no roads
                  to begin with, but when many people pass one way a road is made."

                  Lu Hsun
                • Karen Sandness
                  For a partial answer to the question in the title, take a look at the following article from the Real Estate section of the Sunday Oregonian. For those of you
                  Message 8 of 16 , Jun 10, 2002
                    For a partial answer to the question in the title, take a look at the
                    following article from the Real Estate section of the Sunday Oregonian. For
                    those of you who don't know Portland, the article describes the neighborhood
                    quite accurately. The streetcar is only part of the transit picture,
                    however, because three buslines (#15, #17, and #77) also run through the
                    area, and residents are within easy walking distance of a car sharing
                    outpost.

                    http://www.oregonlive.com/realestate/oregonian/index.ssf?/xml/story.ssf/html
                    _standard.xsl?/base/homes_real_estate/1023537421278111.xml

                    Take particular note of the prices for these developments.

                    The issue of affordable housing is intimately connected with the issue of
                    building livable cities.

                    In transit,
                    Karen Sandness
                  • justinemarysmith
                    ... small grocery store on the corner but video store, park, restaurants etc are quite a ways away. I really can t think of one neighborhood in my city that
                    Message 9 of 16 , Jul 16, 2002
                      --- You make a really good point. I live in a city neighborhood with a
                      small grocery store on the corner but video store, park, restaurants
                      etc are quite a ways away. I really can't think of one neighborhood
                      in my city that comes close to what you describe. In United States
                      perhaps a small handful of cities have neighborhoods as you describe.
                      Do you live in Europe or Canada? Which city are you referring to.
                    • Richard Risemberg
                      Believe it or not, my neighborhood in Los Angeles is nearly ideal in many ways. I have, within a two-minute walk of my spacious apartment, a major grocery
                      Message 10 of 16 , Jul 16, 2002
                        Believe it or not, my neighborhood in Los Angeles is nearly ideal in many
                        ways. I have, within a two-minute walk of my spacious apartment, a major
                        grocery store, three drugstores, a commercial food-service supplier, a
                        bakery/deli, a video store, an office-supply store, a custom shoemaker, and a
                        number of small restaurants; expand the walk to five minutes and you add
                        corner grocery, another shoemaker, another video store, another office supply
                        store, barbershops, more delis, more restaurants, as well as numerous office
                        buildings; make it ten minutes, and you add electronic supply stores, a
                        newsstand, banks, coffeehouses, more restaurants; make it twenty minutes and
                        you add specialty grocers, and the permanent farmer's market on Third and
                        Fairfax, which includes yet more restaurants, plus a few more banks.

                        The only thing we don't have here in what's called the Miracle Mile is, oddly
                        enough, a hardware store.

                        Great transit too, at least for LA.

                        Richard

                        On Tue, 16 Jul 2002 12:20:21 -0000 justinemarysmith
                        <justinemarysmith@...> wrote:

                        --- You make a really good point. I live in a city neighborhood with a
                        small grocery store on the corner but video store, park, restaurants
                        etc are quite a ways away. I really can't think of one neighborhood
                        in my city that comes close to what you describe. In United States
                        perhaps a small handful of cities have neighborhoods as you describe.
                        Do you live in Europe or Canada? Which city are you referring to.
                      • Karen Sandness
                        on 02.7.17 4:52 AM, carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com at ... I live in Portland, Oregon, just outside of a neighborhood commonly referred to as Northwest.
                        Message 11 of 16 , Jul 17, 2002
                          on 02.7.17 4:52 AM, carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com at
                          carfree_cities@yahoogroups.com wrote:

                          > ________________________________________________________________________
                          > ________________________________________________________________________
                          >
                          > Message: 1
                          > Date: Tue, 16 Jul 2002 12:20:21 -0000
                          > From: "justinemarysmith" <justinemarysmith@...>
                          > Subject: Re: You need less space living in a good neighborhood
                          >
                          > --- You make a really good point. I live in a city neighborhood with a
                          > small grocery store on the corner but video store, park, restaurants
                          > etc are quite a ways away. I really can't think of one neighborhood
                          > in my city that comes close to what you describe. In United States
                          > perhaps a small handful of cities have neighborhoods as you describe.
                          > Do you live in Europe or Canada? Which city are you referring to.
                          >
                          >
                          I live in Portland, Oregon, just outside of a neighborhood commonly referred
                          to as "Northwest." Within walking distance I have two full-service grocery
                          stores, four or five dry cleaners, two hair salons, a ski shop (I don't ski,
                          but it's nice to know that it's there), three drugstores, an art house movie
                          theater, three specialty grocery stores, four banks, an independent
                          bookstore, a funky shoe store, a large independent record store, an
                          elementary school, a high school, and more restaurants of every description
                          than I can begin to count. I'm also five minutes away from four bus lines
                          and ten minutes away from light rail.

                          Not all Portland neighborhoods are like this, but I can think of at least
                          two others (Hawthorne and the Lloyd District) that come pretty close.

                          By the way, I was in Los Angeles last November, and Richard kindly took me
                          on a walking tour of his neighborhood, which is indeed as he describes.
                          Riding around the city on the bus, I was pleasantly surprised to find that
                          L.A. and its surroundings are more than a huge strip mall hell.

                          Maybe there's an urban neighborhood in your city that is just waiting to be
                          discovered.

                          In transit,
                          Karen Sandness
                        • Jym Dyer
                          =v= At one point in my life I lived so close to a good grocery store that I simply unplugged my fridge. I figured they were chilling stuff a few blocks away
                          Message 12 of 16 , Jul 17, 2002
                            =v= At one point in my life I lived so close to a good grocery
                            store that I simply unplugged my fridge. I figured they were
                            chilling stuff a few blocks away anyhow, so why waste energy?
                            I'd pick up perishables on the way home and make dinner.
                            <_Jym_>
                          • turpin
                            ... Hardly. I live in Austin, Texas, in the Hyde Park neighborhood. Much of Austin has become the typically sprawled city. But there are a handful of
                            Message 13 of 16 , Aug 6, 2002
                              --- In carfree_cities@y..., "justinemarysmith"
                              <justinemarysmith@h...> wrote:
                              > In United States perhaps a small handful of
                              > cities have neighborhoods as you describe.
                              > Do you live in Europe or Canada?

                              Hardly. I live in Austin, Texas, in the Hyde
                              Park neighborhood. Much of Austin has become the
                              typically sprawled city. But there are a handful
                              of neighborhoods that are pretty convenient. I
                              suspect the majority of people, in major cities
                              throughout the US, (a) don't know that their
                              cities contain such neighborhoods, and (b) are
                              unaware of how much difference it makes, compared
                              to living in the typical suburb.
                            • Chris Bradshaw
                              ... I live in Canada, specifically, Ottawa, the national capital and fourth largest. I live in the Glebe (the name refers to the status of the lands before
                              Message 14 of 16 , Aug 7, 2002
                                > Do you live in Europe or Canada?

                                I live in Canada, specifically, Ottawa, the national capital and fourth
                                largest.

                                I live in "the Glebe" (the name refers to the status of the lands before
                                development, as lands belonging to a downtown church, used to rent to
                                farmers, giving the church extra income). It is about a square mile,
                                with a population of about 12,000 in about 8,000 households, half of
                                which are rented. We are served by two north-south and two east-west
                                bus routes.

                                We have about 100 retail outlets, which are less neighbourhood-oriented
                                than before the car became ubiquitous. But we do have the following:

                                2 grocery stores, plus about 20 other food stores (including 3 bakeries)
                                2 liquor stores and 2 beer stores (they are government monopolies in
                                Ontario)
                                38 restaurants and take-outs, including 7 pubs (they stay open until 2
                                a.m.)
                                1 laundromat (two closed in the last two years)
                                3 pharmacies
                                1 hardware store
                                2 video outlets (plus a few videos avail. at 3 remaining corners stores)
                                1 pet-supply store, plus three vets
                                2 gas stations and one repair garage
                                10 bookstores (there were 15 ten years ago)
                                2 community centres (one for seniors)
                                3 elementary schools, 1 high school, 1 montessori school
                                5 coffee shops (our tea house closed about 4 years ago)

                                Thanks to high property values and slow driving speeds on our main
                                street (Bank Street), very few chains have moved in: Body Shop,
                                Pizza-Pizza and Pizza hut, and McDonalds (not on the main street,
                                though). A good sign of commercial health is the growing number of new
                                businesses that locate around the corner, in basements, and on second
                                floors (there are also a number of apartments above stores).

                                And, yes, these amenities translate into needing less space to live in.
                                And, with 1) transit, 2) a high likelihood of flagging down a taxi on an
                                arterial, and 3) two car-sharing vehicles (provided by my company,
                                Vrtucar), there is little reason to own a car (a major exception is poor
                                transit service for "reverse commutes" to the suburban business parks,
                                which means that street parking is tight overnight).

                                I have often thought of developing a "neighbourhood integrity" index to
                                find the most self-sufficient neighbourhood in North America. I would
                                think ours (which my wife and I "discovered" in 1981, although we lived
                                in it when we were married in 1969 before moving to the burbs where our
                                parents urged us to live) would be among the top "scorers."

                                In general, Canadian cities have a number of "advantages" over American
                                cities. With the climate, we have smaller yards, emphasizing indoor
                                space. With more unified municipal government, we have more compact new
                                development and few "poor neighbourhoods." With more racial integration
                                (and a smaller population of "blacks"), we never experienced
                                neighbourhood upheavals. With no federal powers over urban affairs, we
                                don't have the downside of strings-attached grants to build urban
                                freeways and clear, wholesale, older urban areas. I also think (I was
                                raised in a Canadian-American family, living the last half of childhood
                                in Ohio and Denver, and attending a U.S. college) that Canadians are
                                less gung-ho consumers, having a more cynical view of advertising (e.g.,
                                I think there are more Canadian top comics in our common entertainment
                                market than there are Americans).

                                Chris Bradshaw
                              • turpin
                                ... Hopefully, we would not all move to that one. But there IS a tremendous difference between neighborhoods, in the same city. Even cities that suffer sprawl
                                Message 15 of 16 , Aug 7, 2002
                                  --- In carfree_cities@y..., Chris Bradshaw <chris@t...> wrote:
                                  > I have often thought of developing a "neighbourhood
                                  > integrity" index to find the most self-sufficient
                                  > neighbourhood in North America.

                                  Hopefully, we would not all move to that one. But
                                  there IS a tremendous difference between neighborhoods,
                                  in the same city. Even cities that suffer sprawl and
                                  other problems sometimes contain neighborhoods that are
                                  quite convenient. And the identity of these
                                  neighborhoods now seems almost a secret. Sometimes not
                                  even the local real estate agents know and appreciate
                                  the difference -- they just remark in surprise that
                                  "those small houses sure maintain their value."

                                  I think a catalog of good neighborhoods would attract
                                  a lot of attention to the qualities we're discussing,
                                  and might even make a successful book. I'm not sure
                                  how to put it together. I don't think it is enough to
                                  develop a numerical metric and then score neighborhoods,
                                  even if one could get the raw data for the score. How
                                  many restaurants, banks, groceries, bars, video stores,
                                  etc. are within a mile of my house? So many, it would
                                  take quite some work to count. More important than
                                  their distance "as the crow flies" is that they are on
                                  good walking routes. Now: Where do you get *that* kind
                                  of data?

                                  It seems to me that such a catalog almost has to be
                                  compiled by someone who investigates such things in a
                                  more direct fashion than running city directories
                                  through a computer program, though that might be a
                                  good start.
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