The Atlantic: The Pendulum Swings Downtown

At Arkansas Business, we often marvel at all the condos going up in downtown Little Rock. Is the appetite for expensive downtown living really that big?

Well, if it isn’t now, it will be soon, according to the March edition of the Atlantic:

Arthur C. Nelson, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech, has looked carefully at trends in American demographics, construction, house prices, and consumer preferences. In 2006, using recent consumer research, housing supply data, and population growth rates, he modeled future demand for various types of housing. The results were bracing: Nelson forecasts a likely surplus of 22 million large-lot homes (houses built on a sixth of an acre or more) by 2025—that’s roughly 40 percent of the large-lot homes in existence today.

For 60 years, Americans have pushed steadily into the suburbs, transforming the landscape and (until recently) leaving cities behind. But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue.

Why the swing? The article notes that people are being drawn “to the convenience and culture of walkable urban neighborhoods.” Also, people are having children later than they used to, giving couples more time to enjoy smaller living spaces and the downtown lifestyle. And of course, there’s high gas prices. Can we still afford that commute to the ‘burbs each day?

No doubt local developers have seen these trends coming.

An interesting side note to all this, which is the hook for the Atlantic article: once this shift takes place, the suburbs might “become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay.”

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