Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Residential Preferences versus Sustainable Cities: Quantitative and Qualitative Evidence from a Survey of Relocating Owner-Occupiers

Academic journal article The Town Planning Review

Residential Preferences versus Sustainable Cities: Quantitative and Qualitative Evidence from a Survey of Relocating Owner-Occupiers

Article excerpt

The paper addresses the question of the acceptability to residents of policies promoting more sustainable urban forms through compaction or intensification and greater land use mixing. It does so by examining the motives, behaviour and preferences of a sample of households moving house within the owner-occupied sector in the Cardiff region of South Wales. The findings suggest that most relocating households prefer, and actively seek to move to, less sustainable detached or semi-detached housing with private gardens, often in suburban locations. Apartment living and city centre and dockland locations are rarely preferred. Access to facilities in mixed land use areas appears not to be a prominent concern for many. To reconcile these results with the apparent buoyancy of housing markets in central city and dockland locations, the characteristics and preferences of residents in these areas are examined.

The acceptability of urban sustainability policies

The influential WCED (1987) report on global sustainable development stimulated considerable international concern for developing sustainable cities. In the USA it reinvigorated interest in the principles of the 'New Urbanism' (CNU, 2000). In Europe, the Commission of the European Communities (CEC) proposed higher density, compact city and mixed land use policies (CEC, 1990; 1995), which were taken up by national governments (DOE, 1994). In Britain, there has been an emphasis on maximising development on brownfield land, which is now part of a wider policy of urban renaissance (Urban Task Force, 1999; DETR, 2000). However, these proposals for more sustainable urban development have been subject to much vigorous criticism and debate (Jenks et al., 1996; Williams et al., 2000; Ellis, 2002). A leading British critic, Breheny (1997), suggested three tests of urban compaction policies, namely for veracity, feasibility and acceptability to the public. He argued that the acceptability test '... is the most neglected of the three, yet may be the point on which the whole issue turns' (Breheny, 1997, 213). This paper focuses on this last issue of the acceptability of sustainable urban policies involving intensification and mixed land uses. Ultimately, such policies if they are to be successful will require popular support in democratic societies (Webster, 1998).

Using evidence from Hedges and Clemens (1994), Breheny (1997, 215) argued that 'while compaction stresses the need to focus people in urban cores, and small dwelling units without gardens, preferences stress suburban and rural locations, and houses with gardens'. Studies by Mulholland Associates (1995) and Forest et al. (1997) have reached similar conclusions, although their surveys tend to overrepresent younger, more affluent families. Even the preferences of those households expected to be most sympathetic to living in higher density, central city locations often conflict with urban sustainability policies. Thus, Hooper et al. (1998) confirm that many single people too prefer more housing and garden space in locations outside central cities. While some single persons are more attracted to urban living, they do not necessarily want to compromise substantially on internal housing space. Likewise, Oates and McKee (1997) found, for working single persons and young childless couples, a clear distinction between those who enjoyed a vibrant city life and those who favoured the more tranquil suburbs and rural areas. Evidence indicates, therefore, that many households seem to aspire to more land consumption per capita and tend not to regard central city amenities as sufficient compensation for living at higher densities. Yet this finding raises the further question, to be addressed later, of why recent central city residential developments (Seo, 2002; Blackaby et al., 2002) are apparently popular.

Sustainable living: a theoretical perspective

How can households be persuaded or constrained to make more sustainable residential choices? …

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