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Generation shift could change development trends

Changes in living and commuting trends among younger generations are not widely seen in Northwest Arkansas and the Fort Smith region, but officials do see signs that such trends could change development in the two areas.

A report from the Urban Land Institute suggests that the next generations looking for places to live will prefer option that create demand for “infill residential development that is less car-dependent.” The trend could cause less demand for residential development in outlying suburbs.

The ULI surveyed 1,202 adults in January and February to develop the report.

Among all respondents, 61% said they would prefer a smaller home with a shorter commute over a larger home with longer commute; 53% want to live close to shopping; 52% would prefer to live in mixed-income housing and 51% prefer access to public transportation.

Generation Y (those born between 1979 and 1995), those likely to drive housing trends in future decades, prefer to live in walkable communities in which entertainment, shopping and work are in close proximity.

"The choices being made by these groups are upending long-held notions about what is considered traditional neighborhood development," ULI CEO Patrick Phillips said in a statement. "We've entered an era in land use that will be defined by development that conserves land and energy, and which offers consumers plenty of options in where they live and how they get from one place to another."

Patsy Christie, director of Planning and Community Development for Springdale, said there is some movement toward infill development, but not much.

“We are seeing some activity but not a substantial amount at this time. I believe with the completion of the Razorback Greenway through the downtown area of Springdale we will begin to see a rise of infill residential development and it will expand to other areas of the city as the trail system is expanded and other areas are connected,” Christie explained.

The Razorback Regional Greenway is planned as a 36-mile, walking and bicycling trail that extends from the Bella Vista Trail in north Bentonville south to the Frisco Trail in south Fayetteville. To date, 14.2 miles of the planned route have been built with the whole length scheduled to be open by year's end, according to its website.

Christie said the Greenway project has the potential to drive the type of development preferred by Generation Y and future generations.

“We are seeing a change in attitude with the planning and implementation of the Razorback Greenway. This is the first time in my career that a substantial amount of federal dollars is being put into an alternative transportation mode. I believe we will see a continued demand for and willingness to fund extending trails that will extend beyond this initial corridor,” Christie said.

There are no discernible trends in Fort Smith, according to Wally Bailey, director of Development Services for the city.

“I don’t think we are seeing enough data yet to say that we have a trend in this direction yet. We have seen a spike in downtown residential in the last 8 years by those that want to walk to work, entertainment, etc.,” Bailey said.

Bailey said much of the new residential development is planned for Chaffee Crossing and south Fort Smith, but he does learn of isolated cases where a person or family moved closer to Fort Smith to shorten a work commute.

“I do hear conversations that some would prefer the opportunity to live closer to work, schools, churches, medical facilities, shopping, etc. and perhaps many are buying smaller existing homes in the areas they want to live. We don’t have those kinds of statistics of the existing home buyers,” Bailey explained.

Ken Savage, director of Transit for the city of Fort Smith, believes the demand for public transit will continue to grow in the city. He said the Federal Transit Administration “has recognized the importance of sustainable and livable community development,” and is directing more grant funds toward transit stops, transit stations, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

Following are other survey findings from the ULI report.
• 71% of all respondents said buying a home is a good investment, despite the housing crisis and ensuing home price declines.

• Of those with access to buses and trains, 75 percent rate the quality as satisfactory. However, half of those with no access to buses and trains were dissatisfied by this situation.

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• 52% of the population said that convenient public transportation was important to them.

• Safety and high-quality schools top the list of most sought-after community attributes: 92% of all respondents ranked neighborhood safety as the most important attribute, and good schools ranked as the second highest at 79%.

• In seemingly contradictory responses, 72% of the survey participants said having space between neighbors is a priority; yet 71%  placed a high value on being close to employment , schools, and healthcare facilities, and 70% rated walkability as a key attribute.

• 77% of the respondents reported using a car, truck or motorcycle nearly every day. However, 22% said they walk to a destination almost daily, and 6% said they take public transit.

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