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Undeterred by the facts, North Carolina's city planners
continue to write comprehensive plans based on the illusion that higher density
will solve most urban problems. They believe that sprawl is the cause of
pollution, congestion, and the lack of community in our cities. Our city
planners have appointed themselves to the task of defeating this "enemy."
Unfortunately, Census data show that as the younger
generation ages, they want to live in single-family homes in the suburbs rather
than in high-density housing downtown.
In a Forbes article yesterday morning, Joel Kotkin
reported on a study by demographer Wendell Cox. Cox used Census data to compare
where 25- to 34-year-olds were living in 2000 to where they were living by 2010
(now age 35-44). He found that by 2010, this group had grown in the suburbs by
12 percent and shrunk in the core cities by 22.7 percent. Kotkin writes,
In many ways this group [now age 35-44] may be more influential
than the much ballyhooed 20-something. Unlike younger adults, who are often
footloose and unattached, people between the ages of 35 and 44 tend to be
putting down roots. As a result, they constitute the essential social ballast
for any community, city or suburb.
Which cities gained the most? You guessed it, cities that
are largely suburban.
The most popular cities among
this group — with increases of over 10% — were Las Vegas; Raleigh, N.C.;
Riverside-San Bernardino, Calif.; Charlotte, N.C.; Orlando, Fla.; San Antonio,
Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth, in Texas; and Sacramento, Calif.
And where did the now 35- to 44-year-old group move in these
Furthermore, most of the growth
took place not in the urban centers of these regions but in the outlying
suburbs. This cohort expanded by more than 40% Raleigh's suburbs — 37,000
people — over the decade. Houston's suburbs gained the most of any region of
the country, adding 174,000 members of this particular generation.
Planners should end their quixotic fight against the suburbs
and sprawl and recognize the fact that the vast majority of people want to live
in a single-family home with a yard in the suburbs or in an exurban
Robert Bruegmann documents this trend in his book Sprawl:
A Compact History. People have been
moving out of the crowded, high-density cities for nearly 1,000 years. As soon
as medieval city residents achieved a degree of wealth and government provided
security, they moved outside of the city walls to a less crowded lifestyle. Or
as Bruegmann summarizes, people then and now seek "privacy, mobility and
It is past time for North Carolina's city planners to reject
their New Urbanist ideology and plan cities based on the desires of real
Unless there has been a
mind-numbing change in attitude or an unexpected return to good governance in
cities, young adults entering middle age will continue their shift toward suburban
and lower-density areas in the decade ahead, upending the predictions of most
pundits, planners and development experts.
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