The following perspective piece appeared in Deseret News on August 22, 2022. Read the original article, here.
Families want elbow room but also amenities of urban living. Smart developers can offer both.
As the threat of COVID-19 recedes and life increasingly returns to normal, one trend is likely to stay — the rise of “COVID boom towns.” Millions of former city dwellers have taken advantage of remote work to benefit from lower taxes and cheaper housing in suburban and exurban developments in the Northwest, Sun Belt and Mountain West.
This is even more true for families. Adam Ozimek and Connor O’Brien of the Economic Innovation Group, a centrist D.C. think tank that focuses on place-based policymaking, recently found evidence of an exodus of families from big cities. Between 2019 and 2021, large urban counties — those covering an area with a population of 250,000 or more — saw their population of children younger than 5 decline by 5.4%. New York lost nearly one-tenth of its young children, and Chicago, Santa Clara and Los Angeles all saw the equivalent of one young child in 20 move away.
Many of these families are looking for a little more elbow room, but at the same time want access to some of the amenities of urban living. In July 2020, three-quarters of Americans told pollsters that being within walking distance of destinations like shops and parks were important to them, yet too many new developments still assume a car-dependent lifestyle.
In fact, many millennial parents have had at least some experience living in an environment in which they lived a 10- to 15-minute walk from the place they worked, and enjoyed a close-knit community life, places to eat and social activities — a college campus.
This style of life mimics a more traditional urbanism that would be familiar to residents of European cities, or even the first-ring suburbs in some of America’s older neighborhoods. So it should be no surprise that some of the developments seeking to market themselves to families are adopting urbanist principles for suburban living.
One such example is the Daybreak development being constructed on reclaimed mining land south of Salt Lake City. In contrast to restrictive zoning and land use restrictions that hinder development in many suburbs, Daybreak’s agreement with the city of South Jordan allows the developers to build housing at any density the market can support, with the potential of reaching 20,000 housing units over 4,200 acres.
By offering different levels of density and housing options, rather than cookie-cutter subdivisions, Daybreak can offer homes at a variety of price points. It is car-accessible without being automobile-dependent, connected to downtown via the region’s light-rail system, TRAX.
Daybreak was built with families in mind. Every home in the development is located within a quarter-mile of a park or trail. In designing Daybreak, the developers asked people to describe their ideal neighborhood, and the results speak for themselves: About 60% of Daybreak residents are families with children, according to the Congress for New Urbanism.