Home builders adjust as buyers reject sprawling suburbs

I’ve written often about the relatively bright future for infill development and the questionable prospects for America’s far-flung suburbs.

This isn’t just aspirational — it’s not just me and other urban advocates trying to tell people how to live. In the days of increased gas prices, long commutes on increasingly congested roads, more single person households, a new emphasis on sustainability, and a growing desire to live in places that are walkable and bikeable, homebuyers and renters are making different choices than they were a decade ago.

And homebuilders are adjusting.

From the USA Today’s Subdivisions go urban as housing market changes:

Why are the giants of the building industry, the creators for decades of massive communities of cookie-cutter homes, cul-de-sacs and McMansions in far-flung suburbs, doing an about-face? Why are they suddenly building smaller neighborhoods in and close to cities on land more likely to be near a train station than a pig farm?

A housing industry slowly shaking off the worst economic conditions in decades is rethinking what type of housing to build and where to build it. It’s a response to a new wave of home buyers who have no desire to live in traditional subdivisions far from urban amenities.

The nation’s development patterns may be at a historic juncture as builders begin to reverse 60-year-old trends. They’re shifting from giant communities on wide-open “greenfields” to compact “infill” housing in already-developed urban settings.

The article deals directly with the argument about whether we are seeing a paradigm shift or just a cyclical change in demand brought on by the housing bust and the deep recession. It seems pretty clear that these trends — noted above — aren’t purely cyclical.

Sure, there will always be people who want the suburban lifestyle of the late 20th century, but it’s a lifestyle fraught with hidden costs both to individuals, to their families, and to society as a whole.

Let me close by saying that a metro area like Savannah has largely avoided the worst of these issues. Even our farthest flung suburbs really aren’t that far from downtown, and there are pretty straightforward ways to retrofit many suburban areas so that they would have more amenities that are increasingly attractive to today’s households.

One exception seems to be the planned New Hampstead community off I-16, in which the local public schools decided to site a new high school even though there’s literally no one living in the neighborhood yet. We sure can’t afford to make decisions like that as we consider the new realities of housing demand.