Moving Away from the City: The Reality Missed by the Fairfax County Survey

Political “spin” descended to a new low today with the publication of survey results purporting to suggest that suburban residents and workers are pining for city life. The Washington Business Journal dutifully reported that Today’s suburban workers and residents miss the amenities of cities. The survey sponsor, the Fairfax County (Virginia) Economic Development Authority noted that “almost half of workers who work in the suburbs, say they want more public transportation, more housing options, greater access to useable green space or a better variety of job opportunities – typical features of cities.”

All of this may sound impressive until you realize that no one urban “amenity” was mentioned by more than 25 percent of respondents. That means, for example, that 77 percent of responding suburban residents did not consider “access to convenient public transportation” important enough to mention, while 23 percent did.

According to the Economic Development Authority, the survey indicates that 52 percent of residents “say they would move to a community that offered more of these” urban amenities.

The survey got the moving part right, but missed by a mile on where they are moving. From 2000 to 2008, more than 100,000 domestic migrants left Fairfax County, 11 percent of its 2000 population. But they didn’t move to the city (Washington) or to more urban Alexandria or Arlington, because all of these lost domestic migrants as well. Indeed, the only counties in the Washington, DC area that gained domestic migrants are further from the city than Fairfax County.

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I guess people are just

I guess people are just orientating to places that are supposed to make their living a bit more affordable, whether these places are urban areas or suburbs. If I owned a moving pods company I would make sure that I get the trends right, this would most certainly give me a competitive advantage.