A commute time of 45 minutes or less is a top priority in deciding where to live, according to a survey conducted for the National Association of Realtors and Smart Growth America, a coalition of 100 nonprofit organizations focused on metropolitan expansion and its impacts on the environment, quality of life and economic conditions. Easy freeway access and walkable communities are also important factors in deciding where to live, the study found.

About 1,130 adults 18 and older participated in the survey, which was conducted from Aug. 26 to Sept. 6. The margin of error for the survey is plus or minus 3 percentage points.

About 79 percent of respondents said that commute times of 45 minutes or less were somewhat important or very important factors in deciding where to live. About 75 percent said easy highway access was important, 72 percent said a walkable community is important, 65 percent said it is important to live in a community with people of all ages, 60 percent said it is important to live in a place that is away from it all, 57 percent said it is important to have a large house on more than one acre of land, and 51 percent said it is important to be within walking distance to stores and restaurants.

Also, 46 percent said it is important to be within walking distance to schools and public transportation, 40 percent said it is important to be within walking distance of places of religious worship, and 26 percent said it is important to live “in a place that’s at the center of it all.”

Minorities are even more likely than other Americans to choose a walkable neighborhood that has a shorter commute, with 59 percent of women, 57 percent of Hispanics and 78 percent of African Americans selecting those communities over communities with bigger lots and longer commutes. Most survey participants said they favored the attributes of walkable, smart-growth communities over sprawling communities with longer commutes.

With costs being equal, a smart growth community was described for purposes of this survey as a mix of apartments, condos, townhouses and single-family detached houses on various sized lots with sidewalks and places to shop, eat, read and go to school within walking distance. It was also described as community where public transportation is nearby and a one-way commute is less than 45 minutes. A sprawling community was described as one in which there are only single-family detached houses on one-acre lots, there are no sidewalks, and places to shop, eat, read and go to school are within a few miles by car. Public transportation such as train, bus or light rail is distant or unavailable and a one-way commute is 45 minutes or more.

Among people planning to buy a home in the next three years, 87 percent place a high importance on a shorter commute as their top priority. Asked to choose between two communities, about 60 percent of prospective homebuyers chose a neighborhood that offered a shorter commute, sidewalks and amenities like shops, restaurants, libraries, schools and public transportation within walking distance over a sprawling community with larger lots, limited options for walking and a longer commute. Those who are in the market to buy a home are also more likely to say they want to be in or near a city as opposed to living in a farther out suburb or rural area, the survey found.

Walt McDonald, broker-owner of Walt McDonald Real Estate in Riverside, Calif., and president of the National Association of Realtors, said, “This survey shows that most Americans prefer to live in walkable communities with shorter commutes, sidewalks and amenities close by — a trend Realtors have seen first-hand. Smart growth communities are the wave of the future, especially since they’re heavily favored by prospective buyers and minorities, who represent a growing share of the home-buying market.”

Don Chen, executive director of Smart Growth America, said, “As communities around the country grow, they’re faced with the choice of where, and what, to build next. In too many places, the choices are being made for them by a system of outmoded regulations that make it hard to build great, affordable neighborhoods in the places where people need the housing, and easier to do it in distant locations. The survey makes clear that this will change if we are to meet this growing demand.”

Americans place a high value on limiting their commute times and are more likely to see improved public transportation and changing patterns of housing development as the solutions to longer commutes than increasing road capacities. Half of all Americans chose improving public transportation as the best option to solving long-term traffic problems. The survey found that approximately one-third believe that developing communities where people do not have to drive long distances is the best answer while less than 20 percent believe the answer is to build new roads.

Americans also want government and business to invest in existing communities before putting resources into newer communities farther out from cities and older suburbs, the study found. Nearly 90 percent want their states to fund improvements in existing communities over incentives for new development in the countryside.

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What’s your opinion? Send your Letter to the Editor to glenn@inman.com.

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