America in 2015: A ULI Survey of Views on Housing, Transportation, and Community

Review by: Nicholas Martinez, AICP Manager, Applied Research + Analytics for the Miami Downtown Development Authority

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The Urban Land Institute (ULI) recently released a comprehensive report covering Americans’ views of their neighborhoods and quality of life. As we build our downtowns, it is imperative that downtown practitioners gain knowledge and perspective of the preferences our residents have for the future of their communities. The report looked at how residents in cities, suburbs, and small towns prefer their communities and breaks down its findings by generations, race/ethnicity, income bracket, and homeownership/renter status.
Though the survey did not ask questions specifically about downtowns, many of the findings are transferable. Generational perspectives provide the most interesting findings that can inform downtowns in diverse locations irrespective of size.

Millennials (18-36)

  • Millennials are most likely to live in cities; cities are still the most desirable place for millennials.
  • Millennials have high mobility and are more likely to move in the coming years.
  • Millennials, as a group, are the most dissatisfied with their housing options.
  • Millennials desire a transition to homeownership.
  • There are early indications that Millennials will desire traditional housing and larger spaces, migrating toward townhouses, row houses, and single-family homes as they mature.

Gen Xers (37-49)

  • Gen Xers are traditionalists who desire larger single-family housing options.
  • Gen Xers still prefer their cars at much higher rates than their younger peers.

Baby Boomers (50-68)

  • Baby boomers are downsizing.
  • Baby boomers put the highest premium on healthy food access than any other group.

Silent Generation and War Babies (69+)

  • Older Americans tend to already live in rural areas and small towns and desire convenient access to local amenities.
  • 22% of the silent generation/war babies are not confident that they will be able to afford their next house.

The ULI surveyed 1,201 Americans based on a number of neighborhood indicators – satisfaction with quality of life in the community; satisfaction with current home; range of housing options; healthy environment and food; walkability and transit; traffic and crime as impediments to walking; problematic access to healthy food; insufficient outdoor recreation space; barriers to walking and biking; location preferences; car-optional living; age and cultural diversity; confidence and affordability; likely movers; homeownership; and home size and type. Here are some examples from the findings that can affect downtowns:

Homeownership is still a major goal of Americans across the board; apartments are less appealing now than in the recent past. The survey finds that more people (48%) want to move now than desired to in 2013 (42%). According to the report, “72% of those anticipating a move expect to be homeowners in the next five years.” 84% report they are somewhat or very confident that they will be able to afford the housing they desire within the next five years. This may be a function of perceptible financial relief provided by the improving US economy, falling gas prices providing more disposable income, and historically low-interest rates. Millennials may not have such a clear path to homeownership; many report still living at home – undoubtedly dealing with the residual effects the Great Recession had on their natural entry into the workforce which imposed lasting limitations on their earning power.

Healthy living emerged as an important aspect of quality of life that is important to all groups. Americans rank a good environment as the highest priority community attribute. Within the healthy living matrix, a clean environment ranks above access to healthy food. Unfortunately, many people suggested that they have limited access outdoor recreational opportunities and spaces to exercise. Additionally, bike lanes are an important community asset, but a large percentage of people (37%) say they do not have time to use them.
Both suburban and city dwellers show similar levels of satisfaction with their current homes. But, people seem to desire a broader range of housing options in their communities. Curiously, diverse communities appeal to a great number of Americans (66%). Yet, racial and ethnic minority respondents prefer to live in culturally diverse places at far higher rates than whites. Cities are the most diverse places.

Americans want to be near amenities that enrich their lives. Yet, little time is spent in the report on the relation of home to work. Downtowns tend to provide both work and housing options in close proximity. We would benefit from a deeper dive into consumer sentiment toward living in communities with close work options. Nonetheless, America in 2015 provides rich information and nuanced perspectives that we can use to inform the decision-making process as we plan our downtowns for economic development programs, retail attraction strategies, residential development, arts & culture amenities, and transit/mobility options.

To view the full report, click here.