Daily Archives: March 23, 2016

Happiness Is a Low-Density Suburb

How do you measure happiness? The Antiplanner isn’t sure, but recent research finds that people living in low-density suburbs are happier than people living in cities. People living in rural areas are happiest of all. The effect isn’t as pronounced for especially intelligent people, the researchers concluded, but it was still there.

One reason why people in some cities may be unhappy is the high cost of living there. The Washington Post asks “why it seems impossible to buy your first home.” The paper doesn’t bother answering the question, but the cities discussed in the article–Portland, Boston, Denver, Seattle, Washington, and several California cities–all are under some form of growth management. All but Boston and Washington have urban-growth boundaries, while Boston and Washington are surrounded by counties that have passed highly restrictive zoning codes prevention new home developments.

In addition to making housing unaffordable, growth management makes urban areas dense. So, the question is: is it the density that makes people unhappy or the unaffordable housing? One alternative possibility is that unhappy people are attracted to dense, expensive areas, but I don’t see why that would be true. I suspect that density itself is not the problem, but things that are often (but don’t have to be) associated with density, such as a higher cost of living and traffic congestion, are the real keys to urban unhappiness.