Thursday, October 26, 2006

Location, location … of hot metros, college grads, and the attraction of Olathe, Kansas …

[American Resettlement –- the second in a series about how land use law responds to changing residential patterns]

   Why did the housing price boom of past decade affect a handful of regions (the northeast, west coast, and Florida) far more than it did other areas (including the large cities of the Midwest)?  Any why has Olathe, Kansas, also experience a large jump in rental costs, as the NY Times recently reported

    There are a lot of factors that go into pricing, of course, but here’s a related piece of trivia to fit into the puzzle.  Richard Florida (the “Creative Class” author) has published in the Atlantic Monthly a pair of maps that show how college graduates are concentrating in certain metro areas far more than they did in 1970.  The primary reason, Florida argues, is that the best jobs in our high-tech-oriented nation are now concentrated in a small number of popular metros, most of which are on the coasts (with some exceptions, most notably Denver).  The special attraction of these metros (few people these days move to Cleveland or Memphis to try to get rich, unlike in the past) helps account for the skewing of housing price boom.

Olathe   But what about Olathe, Kansas?   I suspect that the same sort of phenomenon that concentrates college grads and home buyers in high-tech coastal cities is at work in a smaller scale in Olathe.  For nearly every metro area in the country, today’s suburbs (where a vast majority of metro residents live) no longer fit the uniform stereotype of the 1950s.  Some suburbs are prosperous and full of new businesses, while others languish.  In many metro areas, the favored suburbs are near the airport (which attracts business travelers and business hotels); in many areas, the favored suburbs are exurbs in which houses are new, big, and have two-car garages, the stores are clean and surrounded by plenty of parking, good jobs are found in office parks, and the schools systems tend to be flush with high-income cash and low in numbers of poorer students.  These attributes attract intra-metro migration, which translates into far higher housing prices for these favored exurbs.  In the two-state Kansas City area (not a focus of much inter-metro migration, of course), college-educated professionals often tend to prefer Kansas, as opposed to Missouri (race plays a role here, I believe), and in particular, they are flocking to “hot” Olathe and nearby communities.

   Only by recognizing the diversity of and competition among today’s suburbs can law regulate effectively housing and land use in our metropolitan areas.

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