Preference vs. Planning

New Urbanists don’t take too kindly to sprawl. In fact, they’ve compiled a rap sheet for sprawl that is itself sprawling. Suburban life isn’t just bland, it pollutes the air, gobbles up open spaces, contributes to social alienation and even makes us fatter. The antidote to sprawl has always been high-density living, where people live, work and play in the same area, and where walking and biking replace driving. However, there’s a problem: consumer preference. Americans like their personal space and it’s tough to zone them into changing their minds. A smart growth research center begrudgingly concedes this point in a new analysis of over 48,000 real estate transactions in the Portland, Oregon area. Although homebuyers do like certain features of New Urbanist designââ?¬â??such as walkable neighborhoodsââ?¬â??they have not warmed to its central principle, higher densities. Says the study: “Consistent with previous market surveys, people prefer neighborhoods with low population density and low dwelling-unit density.”