The big push from the government, builders, banks and just about everyone else who has been part of the consumer driven craze for more stuff has built their pitch to the citizenry based on a desire for home ownership, particularly ownership in the suburbs.

A Model Community - By wellurban on flickr

But with the current financial crisis drawing to the point where the government is claiming the recession is over, or almost over, our society should take a breath before cruising headlong into the next upswing. Particularly we need to reconsider our energy demands, transportation needs and economic structure, but we also need to consider the form and location of housing demands for the future.

Calculated Risk: Research on Homeownership Rate through 2030

Professor Arthur C. Nelson, Director of the Metropolitan Research Center at the University of Utah sees a dramatic shift in American cities based on changes in demographics and in housing peferences. He believes this will lead to a “new era of infill and redevelopment.”…

He thinks the homeownership rate will fall to 63.5% by 2020, and I think it will stay a little higher as many older couples and singles stay in their homes.

This has significant implications for planning and homebuilders. If Nelson is correct, there will be a dramatic shift towards a “new urbanity” and away from suburbs. And also a shift towards more renting.

Commentators have suggested that in the future, one with lower levels of energy use, the suburbs will be re-tooled into urbanized centres, maybe on a village model, and that the cities will increase in density forming hyper-local networked live-work-play zones offering everything one could desire. In either of these cases, there could well be a reduced demand for home ownership.

Much of the suburban push was built on a premise that endless renovation, increasing property values to justify the renovations and cheap petroleum products to get us into our ever further away workplaces. The government doesn’t mind the level of indebtedness, as it (to a point) pacifies the nation; the corporations love it, as it gives them an easy lever for peddling their advertised wares; the building industry has thrived with the advent of cookie-cutter subdivisions and house designs; and, as consumers, we are always on the lookout for better or bigger.

What is the future of home ownership? Looking at James Howard Kunstler’s take on the suburbs, it is a pretty dismal future, with abandonment and demolition taking centre stage, somehow I think the suburbs may, in some areas, become the slums of the future, in others, a concerted effort will be made to retrofit for other uses, either higher density, or much lower, density such as agriculture.

Published by Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada.