Transit, Density, and Residential Satisfaction
Planners and others have proposed developing high-density residential nodes around transit stations to reduce auto dependence and encourage transit use. Such nodes, the argument goes, would provide more patrons for the transit system, more shoppers for nearby stores, and more of a community for the residents. However, such high-density housing runs counter to the assumed American preference for low-density, detached homes. This study investigates the relationship between residential density and housing satisfaction. It also examines the extent to which other factors, such as proximity of the residential development to transit and respondent background variables, influence this relationship. Data were collected through the presentation of computer-simulated slides to respondents in two urban areas in California. Slides of residential developments of various densities were overlaid on slides of four different settings, two settings next to transit stations and two next to freeway interchanges. Respondents indicated levels of satisfaction with each slide, selected slides they most and least liked, identified housing and neighborhood attributes and other factors associated with their selections, and provided information on their travel behavior and socioeconomic and demographic variables. High-density housing was strongly disliked by a large majority of respondents. However, this reaction was affected by various design features. Housing near transit was generally preferred to housing near freeways. Familiarity with and proximity to sites used in the study did not influence satisfaction ratings. Certain respondent variables did influence the satisfaction-density relationship, including age, income, and presence or absence of children. These results suggest that the desire for single-family detached housing is still quite strong, although not absolute. The concluding section discusses some reasons for this, including cultural norms that confer status and social position on owners of a single-family house with a yard and federal policies that support purchases of single-family detached housing, particularly in suburban areas. Planners and others concerned with increasing residential densities around transit stations should recognize these factors in their planning efforts. Recommendations stemming from this work include utilizing what has been learned about reducing perceived densities while maintaining relatively high objective densities, and identifying and designing high-density living for selected submarkets, such as younger residents, lower-income residents, and households without children.
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