[This article has been published in Restoring America to highlight how younger Americans are bucking urban dwelling for rural areas with established communities.]
As COVID-19 restrictions lift and cities attempt to stem the population and business losses they have suffered over the past two years, many city planners still believe that the historical and well-documented trend of young adults to flock to big cities – for careers, social lives and cultural amenities – will continue and be instrumental in the renewal and revitalization of urban centers. While city leaders, pundits and various urban actors want young cohorts of Americans to return to cities, surveys have repeatedly shown that these critically important young Americans actually show a greater interest in the suburban life than for dense city life, although this fact is not treated as seriously as it should be.
Thanks to YouGov, we have more data on the attitudes towards cities of younger cohorts and now know that despite the oft-cited virtues of public transit and lower congestion rates, positive environmental impacts and levels allegedly lower crime rates, young Americans are not sold at high prices. density of urban life. Specifically, YouGov asked a national sample of adults whether they thought it was better for the environment if homes were built closer together or further apart. Three-quarters (75%) of all Americans agreed with the statement that building homes farther apart is better for the environment. Although rationales for this conclusion were not asked, they could range from the importance of having more trees and green space to the perceived high energy costs for buildings in large cities.
Digging deeper, the data reveals that the majority of Americans across various age cohorts all agree that space between homes matters: About six in 10 (58%) Americans aged 18-29 feel this way, and still more than 83% of their parents. ‘ (Americans aged 45-64) agree. Although older Americans are more likely to believe the extra space is better for the environment, a significant number of younger Americans also feel the same way. In this new post-pandemic era, it should not be assumed that young Americans are enthusiastic about or are willing to live in cramped apartments just to be in urban cores today, as the majority of American adults under 30 years think that having space is valuable.
On the issue of density and traffic — a known source of pollution and stress — majorities across all age groups agree with the statement that higher density development creates more traffic since people live closer to each other. Only a few dots separate the age brackets studied, with about six in 10 Americans ages 65 and older (63%), ages 30-44 (56%) and ages 18-29 (57%) all agree that high density development leads to congestion. Before the pandemic, the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that drivers in the 15 most congested cities spent an average of 83 hours a year stuck in traffic. In Los Angeles, the most congested metropolitan area, blocked traffic costs commuters an average of 119 hours a year. It’s no wonder so many people want low-density areas, and young Americans are no different here.
On the issue of crime — which is on the rise in dense cities like San Francisco and New York and has become a major political issue, an inhibitor of economic development, and a security concern — a majority (53%) of young Americans believe that, compared to less densely populated areas, high density areas have higher crime rates. And only 17% think dense areas have lower crime rates. That’s less extreme than their parents’ cohort, two-thirds of whom (67%) believe density promotes higher crime rates. Even so, it is simply not true that young Americans have diametrically opposed views on crime and urbanity compared to their parents or grandparents, and they may be much less willing to compromise between Usual petty crimes or violent crimes on public transport live in city centers.
Americans are clearly worried about density and prefer to live in less dense areas because they believe density creates real problems. It’s no wonder cities aren’t where the hearts and minds of young Americans are now. Despite real growth in places like Austin, Nashville, and Denver, those urban areas don’t represent most Americans. Additionally, while some cities like New York and Los Angeles are unique in their global stature and may rebound due to particular attributes, industries, and opportunities, the fact remains that dense cities are not not what most young people want today.
Planners and politicians would be wise to rethink their views of young Americans, who are pessimistic and aware of the many growing problems in urban areas. Even though young people may move around a bit in big cities due to social, career and marriage prospects, they can pack their bags as they get older. Many have seen what a more suburban and rural future might look like. The pandemic has changed the American landscape, and young Americans are now turning to starry skies, spacious homes and green yards — not tower blocks, cramped apartments and neon lights.
This article originally appeared in the AEIideas blog and is reproduced with the kind permission of the American Enterprise Institute.