Times are a-changing, and not just because of recession and a woeful housing market. The new generation of young homeowners are voting with their dollars for greener diggs and styles that are different than past preferences.
As McClatchy Newspapers points out, the average age of a first-time home buyer is now 26, three years younger than it was for Gen X or Baby Boomers. This isn't too surprising, given years of low interest rates and a debt-propped spending consumer culture. Plus, it is likely that Gen Y's high standard of living while growing up has led to some sense of entitlement. Home sizes have ballooned in past decades (in 1973 the median size for a new American home was 1,525 square feet; in 2006, it was 2,248 square feet).
Today's wired young people are used to getting things fast and Their Way, as opposed to waiting and planning for long periods of time. McClatchy writes: "They don't believe in paying their dues at work. They want respect at the office now and if they don't get it, they'll move on. Similarly, they don't wait to buy homes."
That does sound pretty accurate.
Given shrinking lawn sizes, it's also not surprising that today's busy young people are less interested in large yards, and more turned on by the possibility of shorter commutes and closer proximity to services and amenities. Of course, high gas prices means this is likely to be even more true. Developers like being able to pack units in closer because they can potentially make more money. (Although some communities are fighting back against this trend with zoning.)
It is true that denser living can help decrease sprawl and energy use, and can help preserve more open space for all (and especially wildlife). In addition, it's encouraging that Gen Y does seem to be more committed to environmental ethics, and puts more weight on sustainability of major decisions like home buying.
Our homes represent our biggest environmental footprint, even eclipsing transportation, and the bigger they are, the more resources they require to build and maintain.
One twenty-something economic analyst told McClatchy, "It's so important that I wouldn't date someone who didn't recycle. Eco snobbery has become a status symbol for Generation Y."
Hopefully, young people's increasing preferences for smaller, more resource efficient and flexible spaces will help push our whole built environment in a more sustainable direction.
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