It is a theme on TreeHugger that living walkable communities and dense cities use less energy per capita, and that the auto-centric suburb is perhaps the worst of all planning models if we want to reduce our energy and particularly our oil consumption. But do people really want to live in high density apartments if they have the choice? A new Canadian study indicates that for a number of reasons, more and more people do.
The study by GWL Realty Advisors comes to some interesting conclusions about how trends are changing regarding home ownership vs renting, apartment vs house. Although the data are Canadian, where there has not been a real estate meltdown as there has in the USA, it seems likely that the trends are similar south of the border. GWL used a mix of census data and polling to reach their conclusions:
Density can inspire innovation
Workers value the ability to discuss ideas over coffee at a hip cafeÌ or lunch at a sushi bar. Evidence increasingly shows that fresh, ground-breaking ideas tend to emerge from spending time outside of an office in a multi-faceted urban milieu. Suburban isolation does not fit many knowledge economy sectors' location needs nor those of the talent they wish to attract.
This is Richard Florida talk, the Creative Class attracted to spiky cities, culture and density.
Apartment dwelling suits the experience economy
Unlike in a consumer-goods fueled economy, in the growing "experience economy" people spend their time and money on experiences. Twenty years ago only the wealthy had regular spa treatments, manicures, and enjoyed frequent fine-dining. Today, individuals of much more modest incomes frequent such places. Other experiences in demand from nearly all income groups range from recreation--such as cycling, skiing, hiking--to travel to simply the daily indulgence of a Starbucks coffee.
Apartment living suits the relationship between many twenty-first century women and families and the economy
The shift to a knowledge and experience based economy that has been happening over the past few decades is also connected to the growth of women in the workforce and the more gender-neutral nature of today's jobs. Apartment living is a natural evolution of this shift.
This point really surprised me, but makes sense; when one lives and works downtown you get a lot more time with your kids.
There is also growing research that younger generations do not relate to the automobile as enabling "freedom." Instead, their electronic and social media devices--whether a smart phone, small lap top computer, music player, etc.--provide an alternate means for self expression and being free to do what they want. In the United States, kilometers driven by 18-34 year olds is declining, and this is likely the case in Canada as well (Neff, 2010). Younger generations seem to have less interest in automotive use, making apartment living in dense, walkable and transit-oriented urban areas a more natural fit for their lifestyles.
There is a lot of Richard Florida and Creative Class stuff in this report, possibly because Creative Class contributor Wendy Waters appears to be involved. But it does appear that more people are sacrificing the suburban backyard for the ability to work close to home and school, drive less and get a decent cappuccino within walking distance. This bodes well for our cities and for our energy consumption.
Download the GWL Realty Advisors Report PDF