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City or Suburbs? Americans Want It Both Ways
43% of Americans surveyed want to live in Denver. Flickr photo by bridgepix.

43% of Americans surveyed want to live in Denver. Flickr photo by bridgepix.

The grass really is greener on the other side when it comes to where Americans want to live, according to new research from the Pew Research Center’s Social & Demographic Trends project. And urbanites are the least content with their current locale, preferring to move to the suburbs, small towns or rural areas.

“Nearly half (46%) of the [American] public would rather live in a different type of community from the one they’re living in now — a sentiment that is most prevalent among city dwellers,” the study finds.

Source: Pew Research Center

Source: Pew Research Center

New York Times columnist David Brooks says the research – a survey of 2,260 adults – runs contrary to the “dreams” of many urban planners who believe “that Americans will give up their love affair with suburban sprawl and will rediscover denser, more environmentally friendly, less auto-dependent ways of living.”

In other words, Brooks implies that Americans don’t want to Amsterdamize (or Copenhagenize) into cycle-friendly, transit-oriented, compact cities any time soon. “Amsterdam is a wonderful city, but Americans never seem to want to live there,” he says.

Then again, it depends on who you ask. Age, gender, income class and other demographic factors play a role in “community satisfaction” and the love for cities.

For example:

While most city dwellers say they are not living in their ideal surroundings, one group is right at home in the city: young people. A 57% majority of urbanites under the age of 30 say the city is the perfect place for them, while majorities of every other age group that lives in the city would ideally prefer to live somewhere else.


Cities are particularly inhospitable homes to middle-income Americans and those on the lower rungs of the income ladder. Six-in-ten city dwellers with household incomes between $50,000 and $100,000 say they would rather be living in some other kind of place.

In general, Americans are not united in what they consider the ideal community: 30% say they want to live in a small town, 25% in a suburb, 23% in a city and 21% in a rural area.

Brooks says the most desirable cities in America — Denver, San Diego, Seattle, Orlando and Tampa — are those that offer a little bit of everything: “They are neither traditional urban centers nor atomized suburban sprawl.”

The Pew report emphasizes that most Americans prefer to head out West, inhabiting cities that have “warmer weather, a casual lifestyle and rapid growth.”

So does this report show that most Americans are anti-city? Not necessarily, according to a few Letters to the Editor in response to Brooks’ column.

“More than half of the 10 cities Mr. Brooks names as most popular with Americans and somehow proof of their anti-urban tastes — Denver, San Diego, Seattle, San Francisco, Phoenix, Portland, Sacramento, Orlando, Tampa and San Antonio — are pursuing aggressively pro-urban policies that revolve around building more transit, more bicycle lanes and fewer roads,” says Alex Marshall, author of “How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and the Roads Not Taken.”

Plus, don’t discount “the rise of downtown living,” says says Eugénie L. Birch, co-director of the Penn Institute for Urban Research. “Philadelphia and Chicago, Lower Manhattan, Los Angeles, Atlanta and yes, even Denver have experienced an influx of residents who have transformed old central business districts and adjacent areas into what is today’s ‘new downtown,’ one that is animated day and night.”

Finally, because Americans have the freedom to choose where the live, it’s no wonder they often opt for the suburbs, which have been built through government subsidies and policies that lower the costs of development, according tp W. Paul Farmer, chief executive
of the American Planning Association.

To read about all the factors involved in American community preferences, download the complete Pew report here.

Source: Pew Research Center

Source: Pew Research Center

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