Density and Accessibility, with Growing Interest … [re-post]

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Density and Accessibility, with Growing Interest in Neighborhood Amenities, Define Community Design Trends As the housing market improves, households look for simplicity and affordability in home styles By Kermit Baker, Hon. AIA
AIA Chief Economist
As the housing market continues its recovery, households’ evolving needs are turning towards more urban and accessible types of development. The security that comes with relative residential isolation is giving way to accessibility to jobs, commercial opportunities, and transportation options. Age-restricted communities are losing popularity to more diverse neighborhoods. Households are looking for home exteriors that are low maintenance, relatively simple and sustainable, yet encourage integration with the broader urban fabric that typically occurs within an infill context.These are some of the main findings from the AIA’s Home Design Trends Survey for the third quarter of 2012, which focused on contemporary neighborhood and community design trends. While households remain cautious in their housing decisions, the residential markets are finally seeing healthy growth. Billings at residential architecture firms have increased each quarter since the beginning of 2012, and are currently growing in every region of the country. The home improvement market remains very healthy, and an increasing number of new construction segments are finally seeing growth.Density and accessibility driving development

In lieu of the large greenfield housing developments that were common during the pre-recession housing boom, home building is occurring on a much smaller scale today. Current production levels are only about a third of what they were during the peak of the market in early 2006, and less than half of what they are expected to be when the market fully recovers. As such, development activities are significantly scaled back in most markets across the country.

Higher-density infill development remains a very attractive option in this economic environment. Many infrastructure development costs are reduced or eliminated in an infill setting. Also, other consumer community preferences—access to public transportation, commercial options, and employment—are generally improved with infill development. While higher density is viewed as a positive for many households, they are also looking for some of the amenities associated with lower-density locations. Residential architects noted that community gardens, dedicated open space, and more recreational opportunities integrated into the development were among the top elements growing in popularity.

Residential architects also value generational diversity in their projects. While multigenerational housing opportunities were seen as growing in popularity, age-restricted communities were one of the few design preferences that architects noted as declining in popularity. Subsidized and affordable homes included in developments, as well as greater diversity of home styles, homes sizes, and lot sizes within communities, were also in the second tier of neighborhood characteristics growing in popularity.

Within these broader neighborhood and community design parameters, home styles have demonstrated a fair degree of stability. Front and side porches, which offer greater connection to the neighborhood, remain popular features. Simpler exterior detailing and single-story homes also remain generally popular. Somewhat in contrast, contemporary (as opposed to more traditional) home styles have attracted some renewed interest.

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