Survey finds lengthening commutes are driving the growing demand for walkable neighborhoods near cities

As policy-makers and the public debate the different aspects of growth and development, Smart Growth America and the National Association of Realtors® asked Belden Russonello & Stewart to look at Americans’ preferences for the type of communities they want to live in and the policies they support for creating those communities. The preferences and other opinions expressed in the survey suggest a direction for solving the conflicting pressures of the desire to develop and the wish to preserve communities.

BRS conducted a national random sample survey of 1,130 adults, age 18 and older from August 26 through September 6, 2004 using the Knowledge Networks Web-enabled panel. The Knowledge Networks sample is derived from a random digit dial (RDD) telephone methodology that represents all U.S. households with telephones. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3.0 percentage points. The data have been weighted by race and age to match the U.S. population as represented in the U.S. Census.

The 2004 National Community Preference Survey covers many opinions that Americans hold about where they live, where they would like to live, and the policies for getting there. The survey reveals three main points:

  • Americans favor smart growth communities with shorter commute times, sidewalks, and places to walk more than sprawling communities.
  • The length of their commute to work holds a dominant place in Americans’ decisions about where to live.

Americans place a high value on limiting their commute times and they are more likely to see improved public transportation and changing patterns of housing development as the solutions to longer commutes than increasing road capacities. This unambiguous finding suggests that, while public policies are going in one direction, public opinion is running down another path.

  • Americans want government and business to be investing in existing communities before putting resources into newer communities farther out from cities and older suburbs.

The public’s priorities for development include more housing for people with moderate and low incomes and slowing the rate of development of open space. Many Americans also express the desire for more places to walk or bike in their communities.