Satisfaction higher in traditional neighborhoods, study says

Neighborhood satisfaction is higher among traditional neighborhood residents, even controlling for socio-demographics and other characteristics, according to a study published in the journal Landscape and Urban Planning. The findings could give encouragement to policy-makers who seek to promote compact, walkable neighborhoods for sustainability reasons, the authors write.

The study by Kristen Lovejoy, Susan Handy, and Patricia Mokhtarian, compares traditional neighborhoods in four California cities — Mountain View, Santa Rosa, Modesto, and Sacramento — to nearby suburban neighborhoods. The traditional neighborhoods are older, walkable, and low- to moderate-density, while the suburban examples are newer and automobile-oriented. The comparison neighborhoods share similar property values, and, in two of the cases, the same school districts.

“The main difference between the types of residential settings that we examine are the types of neighborhood design features central to new urbanist theories,” the authors say. The traditional neighborhoods are not, in fact, new urban communities but pre-World-War-II places neighborhoods with interconnected street grids (see map).

The traditional neighborhoods outperformed the suburban ones — more residents of traditional neighborhoods, for example, thought their house and its location met their needs “very well” in the following categories:

• Characteristics of the neighborhood — 47.6 percent for traditional neighborhood residents compared to 31.5 percent of suburban residents.

• Location in the neighborhoods — 48 percent for traditional neighborhood residents compared to 39.4 percent of suburban residents.

• Location in the region — 64.3 percent for traditional neighborhood residents versus 47.4 percent of suburban residents.

There was no statistically significant difference in how residents of the two categories felt about “characteristics of the residence,” that is to say their house, independent of the neighborhood.

Here’s how the authors explain the findings:

“We find no difference between neighborhood types in the contribution to satisfaction of characteristics thought to be more common to suburban than traditional neighborhoods, including parking, yards, quiet, or cul-de-sacs, nor of characteristics thought to be more common to traditional than to suburban neighborhoods, namely proximity to destinations and mixed land uses. The only difference in importance weights across neighborhood type was for liveliness, contributing to neighborhood satisfaction only among residents of traditional neighborhoods and not contributing significantly (positively or negatively) for suburbanites.”

The bottom line: Providing that neighborhoods are perceived to be equally safe and attractive, getting people to choose a mixed-use compact, neighborhood over a suburban housing development may not be that hard a sell. “Our results suggest that this [goal] might not be as hard [to achieve] as one would think,” the authors write.