The American Dream Is Changing. Is Your Community?

New York Times architecture columnist Allison Arieff has a clear message for those that continue to promote sprawl: The American Dream is changing. Communities and businesses that realize this will reap the rewards of changing alongside it. Those that don’t will be left behind.

The American Dream has long been wedded to the vision of a large lot home far in the suburbs, and it’s created a host of problems, Arieff writes:

We’ve built more houses than we’ve needed — and built them farther away from jobs. This has led to longer commutes, which has created more traffic. In response, we built more highways, increasing fuel consumption and, as transportation planners acknowledge, doing little if anything to reduce traffic. It’s a vicious, seemingly endless cycle, and at its core is the notion that the American dream can exist only within the framework of the single-family home on a large lot.

But that notion is outdated, as is indicated by numerous preference surveys and the buying habits of homebuyers today—particularly younger buyers. As Arieff notes, homebuyers visiting a far-flung subdivision would once be asked, “How much square footage are you looking for?” But today, many are instead asking, “Is this the community I want to live in?” A growing number of buyers are no longer interested in places where they can’t walk to a coffeeshop or grocery store, where one has to jump in a car to safely access parks and schools.

Smart builders are recognizing this and retooling their designs. Smart communities are reinvesting in their downtowns and existing neighborhoods, and reconnecting neighborhoods through better active transportation and public transit links. Those that do are attracting more talented workers, more young families, more innovative companies. It’s not a trend limited to big cities or suburban towns—indeed, the smartest regions recognize that any town has this potential, Arieff argues.

Single family homes aren’t going anywhere, and they shouldn’t. For many, they are still a preferred way of living, and we have a massive supply of them--according to some estimates, many millions more than we need.

But Arieff argues that major changes are afoot in the size of these homes, their integration with other ways of living, and their support for a healthy and enjoyable lifestyle for every resident. It’s time to give everyone options other than the old model of living in auto-dependent subdivisions.

Whether we do so is fundamentally about choices. Oregon can be a leader in directing this path, if our leaders make the right land use choices. Learn more about how land use choices shape the way your community looks and lives at friends.org/LandUseIs.

Read the full column here.