Authors Patrick C. Doherty and Christopher B. Leinberger offer a fascinating prescription for economic prosperity: unleash the market forces that are clamoring for walkable communities. The authors argue that the federal government can spark a new housing boom through transportation funding reform and better planning. The government needs to act quickly, they say, because a demographic convergence favoring urban places is only three years away, "and the economy needs a sustainable base from which to grow more quickly now." The following are some excerpts from their article:
"We’re unlikely, however, to see a real estate recovery based on a continuation of the type of development that has driven the industry for the past few generations: low-density, car-dependent suburbs growing out of cornfields at the edge of metropolitan areas. That’s because there is now a massive oversupply of such suburban fringe development, brought on by decades of policy favoring it—including heavy government subsidies for extending roads, sewers, and utilities into undeveloped land."
"Meanwhile, the Great Recession has highlighted a fundamental change in what consumers do want: homes in central cities and closer-in suburbs where one can walk to stores and mass transit. Such “walkable urban” real estate has experienced less than half the average decline in price from the housing peak."
"There are some obvious reasons for the growing demand for walkable neighborhoods: ever-worsening traffic congestion, memories of the 2008 spike in gasoline prices, and the fact that many cities have become more attractive places to live thanks to falling crime rates and the replacement of heavy industries with cleaner, higher-end service and professional economies.
"But the biggest factor, one that will quickly pick up speed in the next few years, is demographic. The baby boomers and their children, the millennial generation, are looking for places to live and work that reflect their current desires and life needs. Boomers are downsizing as their children leave home while the millennials, or generation Y, are setting out on their careers with far different housing needs and preferences. Both of these huge demographic groups want something that the U.S. housing market is not currently providing: small one- to three-bedroom homes in walkable, transit-oriented, economically dynamic, and job-rich neighborhoods."
"The bottom line is this: despite the protests of orthodox adherents to liberal and conservative fiscal policy, it is now possible to unleash latent private-sector demand by implementing reforms that will end our subsidies to sprawl and focus our nation on sustainability. Neither stimulus nor austerity, this approach would provide a new economic engine for America that can set us on a secure and prosperous path for years to come."