Thirteen years ago, the Houston Area Survey started asking people who lived in urban areas if they'd prefer to live in the suburbs. It also asked people in the suburbs if they'd like to move into the city one day. Survey founder Stephen Klineberg, a Rice University sociology professor, says the survey has revealed a clear shift in opinion.
"In 1999, twice as many people in the city said 'I want to move to the suburbs,' than people in the suburbs saying 'I want to move to the city.' Those lines have crossed now. And in this year's survey, significantly more people in the suburbs said 'I would be interested in, someday, moving to the city,' than people in the city saying, 'I want to move to the suburbs.'"
The most obvious reason is the rise in gasoline prices. But Klineberg says shifting demographics are also at play.
"You've got empty-nesters. Kids are grown up. You've got young creatives who want the urban life. When all this began, 65% of U.S. households consisted of a husband and wife and two kids. Now, it's less than a third."
And that change in the makeup of households is also reflected in the type of houses people in Houston aspire to own. The percentage of people who say they'd like a traditional house with a yard in the suburbs has dropped from 59% four years ago, to 47% today. While the proportion who would like a smaller home in a more walkable neighborhood has risen dramatically over the same period of time — from about a third, to more than half.