Matrix Blog

Suburban, Urban, Commuting

Sprawled In The Suburbs, There Is Hope For The New-Urbanist

February 8, 2006 | 12:01 am |

National Geographic has a really cool image gallery that compares New Urbanist and Sprawl suburbs [NG]. Wait a sec…National Geographic? Here’s a cheesy interactive page of the same info [NG].

Here’s more discussion from the City of Austin:
-Residences far removed from stores, parks, and other activity centers
-Scattered or “leapfrog” development that leaves large tracts of undeveloped land between developments
-Commercial strip development along major streets
-Large expanses of low-density or single use development such as commercial centers with no office or residential uses, or residential areas with no nearby commercial centers
-Major form of transportation is the automobile Uninterrupted and contiguous low- to medium-density (one to six du/ac) urban development
-Walled residential subdivisions that do not connect to adjacent residential development.

I was specifically interested in National Geographics definition of the residential components and how they differ between the two types of suburban growth:

New Urbanism

  • Different housing types—apartments, row houses, detached homes—occupy the same neighborhood, sometimes the same block.

  • People of different income levels mingle and may come to better understand each other.

  • A family can “move up” without moving away—say, from a row house to a single-family home.

  • Property values don’t necessarily suffer when housing types are mixed. New-urbanist neighborhoods are generally outselling neighboring subdivisions, and some of the United States’ most expensive older neighborhoods—Washington, D.C.’s Georgetown, Boston’s Beacon Hill, for example—are marvels of mixed housing.


  • Developers often fill whole subdivisions with one type of residence—say, $300,000 ranch houses.

  • Zoning often outlaws apartments and houses in the same development.

  • Sequestered in a narrow sliver of society, people may develop or maintain intolerance of those outside their ilk.

It seems logical that New Urbanism is more appealing (to me on first glance anyway) based on the points made above, but look at the discussions raised Suburban Dystopia[Polis]. Suburbs are experiencing a renaissance [LA Times]. Actually I think nearly every fad or movement in housing is being seen now. When the market is as strong as it has been, more expensive alternatives gain in popularity. Here’s another California pro-Suburb article that came out on the same day. [SF Chron]

The correction of a 50 year old housing pattern is not so easy. In addition, restrictions on use, such as zoning, transportation, building codes, etc. tend to drive the prices up. The move toward New Urbanism means a potentially better living experience but at higher prices.


Stupid People Is You And Me

December 12, 2005 | 12:01 am |

I opened up this week’s issue of Businessweek and saw the article Bubble, Bubble — Then Trouble [Businessweek]. I basically could anticipate the content of the article without reading it (but I read it because I really like Businessweek online). The subject of the story was Loudoun county, Virginia which has been the nation’s fastest growing county since 2000 and the analysis of this location might be interpreted to mean whats in store for the remainder of the country.

Local real estate brokers are quoted as saying that the market is now more balanced, nothing worse than that.

However, the quote of the day came from a local businessman who assessed the real estate slowdown like this:

They ran out of stupid people.

Of course my favorite interpretation of the above quote is from George Carlin:

Think about how stupid the average person is; now realize half of them are dumber than that.

The article says that “What’s happening in Loudoun is a rapid shift in psychology — a classic sign of a market turn. The buoyant optimism that fueled speculation and expectations of ever-rising prices is now succumbing to the fear of being left standing when the music stops. Real estate, the hottest play of the century in Loudoun, is rapidly cooling.”

The dynamic here is interesting. A booming bedroom community with a strong economy – why would prices collapse? Perhaps one could speculate that worry here seems to be more closely tied with the adjustment to a slower pace or “cooling”, rather than a looming crash. Or I guess I am just stupid.

Sprawling On The Couch Of Urban Living

October 16, 2005 | 5:58 pm |

There has long been the theory that reducing sprawl drives up housing prices. A study by Sacramento State University disputes this theory and found that cutting sprawl may actually reduce housing prices. [Central Valley Business Times]

Sprawl has been blamed for traffic congestion, air pollution, loss of open space, and economic, racial and ethnic segregation. But sprawl also enables people to buy the bigger homes they often desire in the suburban places they view as far away from the problems of the central locations.

The study found that a housing prices could be expected to fall in an area that is controlling growth (limiting sprawl) as buyers tend to purchase smaller houses with smaller lots. In other words upper priced home buyers leave the area to look for larger properties, dropping median prices in the smart growth area..

Webmaster’s note: Unless I am completely missing the point, this study seems to indicate that there is a shift in the mix of housing to smaller units in urban areas where there is smart growth. Falling prices then are attributable the shift in mix of sales. I suspect that the values of individual houses actually rise. When development or marketability is restricted, values rise. Its a simple case of supply and demand. This is why housing prices are higher on the east and west coasts – less available land and more restrictions on development.

[Should We Stay Or Should We Go (To The Suburbs)?] [Matrix]
[Urban Beats Suburban] [Matrix]

Urban Beats Suburban

August 25, 2005 | 10:46 am |

suburbs In certain pockets of the country, homebuyers are choosing the city over the suburbs as home buyers re-evaluate urban areas. This demographic shift is occuring as baby boomers get older and many urban areas have largely seen a cultural renaissance over the past 10 years.


Growing suburbs are now experiencing the problems of their neighboring urban areas and homebuyers are now considering moving farther out where land is cheaper but the commute is longer.

With oil prices rising, this makes for an interesting situation since commuting costs will rise making the feasability of a long distance commute less likely to be sustained.