By Kaid Benfield for Congress for the New Urbanism
Even before the recession began, the market for residential and commercial property in the US was changing away from a model of unmitigated suburban sprawl and toward one of more central locations, urbanity, and walkable neighborhoods. The foreclosure crisis, spike in gasoline prices, and then the full-blown recession have only placed the changes in the market in starker relief. I believe that we are unlikely to return to the old days of sprawl’s utter and complete domination of the real estate map.
Among the evidence, there is a clear geography to the changes in real estate prices we are now seeing: close-in locations are now more highly valued than they used to be, and sprawling locations are less valued than they used to be. I reported this most recently in my map of changing home values in the Washington, DC, region, which shows steep declines in sprawling locations over the last year, but only modest ones (and, in one case, an increase in value) in inner locations.
This is consistent with various maps showing the patterns of foreclosure, such as those in Denver and Houston, which depict, sadly, many more foreclosures in sprawling new suburbs than in urban locations. Something similar has been happening with regard to commercial properties, too, even before the recession.
A second set of indicators that things are changing reflects the way that central cities (save some egregious cases like Detroit) have experienced a building boom and influx of new jobs and residents. Dr. John Thomas at EPA has been analyzing the geography of housing permits, and he has seen dramatic rises in the central-area share (and, conversely, drops in the outer-suburban share) of new housing construction over the last two decades.
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