Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nice USA Today piece on U.S. Census data and major demographic trends reshaping the country and its opportunities

Bliss comic by Harry Bliss, 8/10/2011

See "Census tracks 20 years of sweeping change."

Two points stick out to me with regard to urban planning.

1. Housing Policy

From the article:

•Among unrelated people. A wide variety of living arrangements have flourished among all ages: unmarried partner couples, both same-sex or opposite sex, sometimes with their own or related children or adult roommates.

•Living solo. The share of one-person households continues to grow, up from 25% in 1990 to 27%. The recession has slowed the trend by forcing some young adults to live with parents or roommates. But as Baby Boomers flood into their empty-nesting years and beyond, the trend could accelerate. In many Western European countries, more than one-third of households consist of just one person.

While I haven't gotten around to blogging myself about the report, Housing + Transit in DC by the Center for Neighborhood Technology commissioned by the DC Office of Planning, which found that when you combine higher housing costs with lower transportation costs, DC locations can still be cheaper overall than many suburban locations, GGW did, in "Living may actually be cheaper in the region's core" and I was really struck by the comment thread and by how a majority of vehement commenters focused on their belief that houses need to be big, especially for families, and that DC doesn't have enough of this type of housing, and therefore the report's conclusion is not accurate.

The reality is that the majority of newly constructed housing in the U.S. has been single family homes, even as household size drops for a significant percentage of the base of American households.

Granted, the financial crisis that we're in is forcing a repatterning of the new construction segment of the housing industry, towards a focus on apartments and condominiums, but the reality is that the housing market needs to be more differentiated than it has been, so do local housing policies and plans, and that while many people in many neighborhoods everywhere criticize the addition of multiunit housing into "traditional" neighborhoods, it helps make the neighborhoods more resilient and able to thrive in changing economic and demographic conditions.

2. Schools Policy

•Fewer kids. Only one-third of households now have children, and the share of households that have kids under age 18 dropped in 95% of counties, changing the flavor of neighborhoods in cities and suburbs.

The opposite is happening in areas populated predominantly by immigrants. The 1.9 million-person gain in the under-18 population since 2000 was fueled completely by racial and ethnic minorities. Hispanic fertility is at 2.9 births per woman, much higher than the national average of 2.1.

While it's vitally important to focus on schools quality for a number of reasons, this is interesting data. First, it means that there are fewer children in the U.S., so we don't need as many big houses. Second, school districts will continue to shrink in size as enrollments drop. Third, unless the places experience high rates of immigrant in-migration. Fourth, educating children is expensive and having county-wide school districts as opposed to jurisdiction specific school systems (like in Michigan or New Jersey) is cheaper for cities and spreads out costs across a larger base.

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