Commentary

Sprawl Likely to Continue Despite Housing Bust

Lots of planners were almost giddy when the housing market collapsed and gas prices made commuting from far flung ex-urbs too expensive; this would be the day of reckoning for urban sprawl. I address this issue in my most recent post on Plantezen.com‘s blog Interchange, noting that academic research shows that the quest for open space in the form of a yard is a persistent benefit for households. The quest for a single-family detached home and a yard is unlikely to abate once the economy recovers and incomes increase again.

I write:

A review of dozens of econometric hedonic studies over the past decade by Florida State University economists G. Stacy Sirmans and David Macpherson found that the lot size, number of bathrooms, home square footage, and even the presence of a swimming pool significantly increased home value. More strikingly, of the 64 studies that have examined the influence lot size has on home value, 54 found a positive relationship: as lot size increased, home value increased. Ten studies found no statistically significant impact. None of the studies found a negative relationship. In other words, the housing consumers consistently and persistently valued larger lots in their choice over new home purchases.

“Meanwhile, of the 78 studies that included the age of a home, the effect was negative in 63 cases, positive in seven, and had no effect in eight studies. Since older cities tend to have older homes with fewer of the characteristics contemporary buyers want—more bedrooms, bathrooms, etc.—traditional cities have trouble competing in the housing market.

“The takeaway for planners and planning is that attracting households to older cities is an uphill battle. Rejuvenating existing and older neighborhoods requires allowing the real-estate market to adjust to fit the styles and preferences of contemporary families.”

Samuel R. Staley, Ph.D. is a senior research fellow at Reason Foundation and managing director of the DeVoe L. Moore Center at Florida State University in Tallahassee where he teaches graduate and undergraduate courses in urban planning, regulation, and urban economics. Prior to joining Florida State, Staley was director of urban growth and land-use policy for Reason Foundation where he helped establish its urban policy program in 1997.