Analysts say people are chasing affordability.
We have often said that people want to live in walkable neighborhoods and should move back into cities, but according to the data analysts at Redfin, right now people are voting with their feet, or rather their gas pedals, for the car-dependent suburbs. "Data journalist" (neat title!) Dana Olsen says they are chasing affordability. According to Redfin's chief economist Daryl Fairweather,
It sounds like the old "drive 'til you qualify" problem where people with less money for housing end up investing a lot more time and money in their cars.
It’s not that people value walkability any less than they used to. Many homebuyers are simply relegated by their budgets to live in car-dependent areas, which have since seen demand and home prices grow at a faster rate. The trend also has implications for society, with families becoming further segregated by class and race, as well as for the environment, as more demand in car-dependent areas means more carbon emissions. Growing cities can combat these issues by adopting policies that encourage building more dense, affordable housing in walkable areas.
Some cities are going the other way, particularly in rust belt cities like Columbus, Ohio or Detroit, which are going through serious revivals but still have affordable housing in their urban cores.
Of course, the Joel Kotkin types would interpret the data differently and say prices are rising in the suburbs faster because that is where people actually want to live. Or the National Association of Homebuilders (big surprise!) would survey millennials and find:
66% want to live in the suburbs, 24% want to live in rural areas and 10% want to live in a city center. One of the main reasons people want to relocate from the city center, she said, is that they “want to live in more space than they have now.” The survey showed 81% want three or more bedrooms in their home.
Redfin's Fairweather says we need more dense, affordable housing in cities, but perhaps what we really need are better suburbs that are walkable, bikeable and streetcarable.