May 09, 2004
Come back to the city

The latest Houston Area Survey shows that more people are moving back to the city and away from the suburbs compared to recent years.

This increased interest in urban living is being driven in large part by Anglos, Republicans and families with children at home -- groups traditionally regarded as firmly entrenched in suburban lifestyles, the survey shows. In all, 38 percent of the Harris County suburban residents interviewed said they were interested in moving into the city, up from 27 percent last year.

"This is a dramatic reversal from all the past years," said Stephen Klineberg, the Rice University sociology professor who has directed the survey of local attitudes and demographic characteristics since 1982. "In one year, the psyche of the people living in the suburbs has changed."


Klineberg said the timing of the survey may have influenced the results this year. The telephone survey of 650 randomly selected Harris County adults, with an error margin of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, was conducted Feb. 16 through March 1, in the aftermath of the Jan. 1 opening of the Main Street rail line and the Feb. 1 Super Bowl.

Klineberg and others said these events may have given many suburban residents their first taste of the nightlife, dining and other diversions along the Main Street corridor from downtown to Reliant Park.

In earlier surveys that included the urban-suburban questions, the proportion of city residents interested in moving to the suburbs has been almost twice as great as the reverse. This year, the numbers are much closer, with 42 percent of city residents saying they are very or somewhat interested in moving to the suburbs.

Over the years, suburban migration has made Houston "the most spread-out major city in America," Klineberg said. "But now, for the first time ever, there is as great an interest in moving into the city as there is in moving out to the suburbs."

In analyzing the suburban residents' results, Klineberg found that increased interest in urban living was more pronounced among Anglos than among blacks or Hispanics. Among the Anglos, the change was greatest among those ages 30 to 44, married and with children living at home. Interest grew more among those who identified themselves as Republicans.

These findings suggest a shift in the tradition of the suburbs as a haven for conservative young families who want to raise their children in a big house with a yard and enroll them in well-funded suburban public schools.

Realtor Eileen Hartman of Greenwood-King Properties said many of her and her colleagues' clients are approaching the school question differently than parents have in the past.

"Families for a time were moving out for the suburban schools, but now time -- and family time -- is more important," Hartman said via e-mail. "They don't want that one to one-and-a-half-hour commute each way. If theyaren't pleased with their local school or if their children don't make the cut into a magnet or Vanguard school, they are opting for private schools instead of moving out."

That makes a lot of sense to me, but of course I had that hour and a half commute each way in high school. When I got to college and discovered how much more time in the day there was when one is a five-minute walk away from class, I swore I'd never engage in a long commute again. I've never understood the willingness to commit two hours plus to driving.

I have a minor nit to pick with the sidebar story about willingness to use Metro instead of one's car. People were asked if they'd consider not driving to work if the mass transit system were more "efficient". It's not a question of efficiency to me, it's a question of coverage. If I can get where I'm going in no more than two hops, I'll at least consider it. The proposed commuter rail line along US 290 passes not far from my house once it enters the Loop, while the future rail line along I-10 would be even closer to me. Assuming they'd both connect to the Main Street line, I'd have a viable alternative. But not until one of them happens.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 09, 2004 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack