Today’s issue of Better Cities and Towns had a great piece further evidencing current thinking that VMT has peaked and we are now trending downward. The article credits much of the decline to the incredible fall-off in driver license ownership by 16-24 year olds – noted to be at the lowest level since record keeping began. This is a trend that’s been documented in several recent publications and the focus of conversations with many of my colleagues. The notion that Gen X and Gen Y don’t need a driver’s license to achieve independence (the way us boomers’ did) is an interesting phenomenon supported by social networking, increased transit options and an increased sensitivity to environmental issues.
As a resident of San Francisco – a city where the convergence of urbanism, walkability and changing demographics should showcase this bold future, here is a bit of a spoiler. Last week’s San Francisco Business Times story entitled Living on the Edge added the byline ‘Homebuilders and Buyers Rush back into the Bay Area’s Exurbs’. The story looks at Mountainhouse - a sizeable planned community in Tracy California, that just four years ago was recognized as the zip code with the most underwater homes.
The recession’s crushing loss to home values was forecast to be the nail in the coffin for the planned community genre as buyers recognized ‘total cost of ownership’ with a calculus that included increasing cost of gas, loss of quality time with families for long commutes, and now the potential for significant loss of home value for ‘exurban locations’.
But fast forward just four short years and here’s how it’s playing out. According to the article, homebuilder Lennar is holding lotteries for its next phase, to ‘select from dozens of people clamoring to buy a house’. In an era where drive to qualify was predicted to be a thing of the past, the Vice President for Marketing at Shea Homes is finding that buyers are ‘willing to sacrifice a little bit of a commute’ (translation – about 45 minutes in good traffic) in order to gain a larger home for less money, and have a great place to raise a family.
Social networking notwithstanding, this doesn’t sound all that different from a generation ago does it?