According to a new poll conducted by the National Association of Realtors
, the majority of home buyers no longer want to live in conventional suburban neighborhoods. The poll found that 56 percent of American home buyers would choose a “smart growth” community (characterized by mixed-use development, multimodal transportation, walkability and a general downtown sort of vibe) over the single-use, car-centered suburban model that has dominated North American urban growth since the 1950s. An even larger majority — 77 percent — say they look for the pedestrian infrastructure long absent from suburbia such as wide sidewalks when shopping for a new home. Other findings: 59 percent would swap square footage for a shorter commute, 88 percent valued neighborhood quality over home size, and 50 percent wanted better public transit instead of more new roads.
Taken as a whole, this is a snapshot of a major long-term demographic and social shift, a fundamental reconfiguration of American priorities that sees America’s brightest future not in compartmentalized suburban sprawl but in mixed-use downtown livability. Combine these home buyer preferences with trends toward smaller families, fewer and later marriages, the bursting of the housing bubble and rising energy prices, and it’s not much of a stretch to suggest the suburban dream is over.
In fact, it’s already led to what the Urban Land Institute is calling “a revolution” in grocery store development
. Namely: after years of exodus and outsized square footage and big-boxing, grocery store chains are rediscovering the “small is beautiful” credo downtown. The New York Times reported last week
on the infiltration of New York City by the German grocery giant Aldi, which is opening two stores just one-sixth the size of the average Walmart. The king of big-box retail, meanwhile, has itself promised to open hundreds of small-footprint “Walmart Express” grocery outlets
in American downtowns over the next few years; the first, in Chicago, fills just 26,000 square feet, more than 100,000 square feet less than the Walmart norm. Another European import — Fresh and Easy, operated by Tesco of the U.K. — is opening several new outlets in cities across northern California in the coming months
, all with floorspace of less than 12,000 square feet.
And few grocery stores of any type have received the free publicity that the “Social Safeway” in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C.
, has, since it opened last summer. Though not as small as the European imports, the 71,000-square-foot grocery store is lauded for its LEED-certified design in a mixed-use building that meshes tightly with its urban neighbors. The Safeway store sits on the second floor above a parking lot hidden behind smaller retail storefronts, requires 40 percent fewer parking spots than the norm. (Another Safeway in D.C.
has been integrated into a multi-use residential complex, sharing its footprint with almost 700 residential units.)
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