Cost of Living and Quality of Life



By Dom Nozzi


On the issue of transportation, my rule of thumb is that there is a strong correlation between quality of life and transportation choice. The more one must rely on a car to get around, the more diminished the quality of life is. The more sterile it is. The less of a sense of community or neighborliness one finds. The more one must put up with noise pollution from the constant drone of car traffic.


Indeed, this is precisely why it is so unaffordable to find a home in a place rich in transportation choice. A great many people now recognize this locational principal, and there are so few such places remaining, compared to the large and growing demand. For this reason, it is typically a very wise investment to find a home in a neighborhood with transportation choice that is still affordable.


In an article I just read, the author compares New York City to Tampa for household costs. Obviously, NYC housing costs are a lot higher than in Tampa. But guess what? When you combine NYC household transportation and housing costs to those costs in Tampa, 56.4 percent of the total household spending goes toward transportation and housing in Tampa vs. 52.2 percent in NYC. That is because in NYC, only 15 percent of household spending goes to transportation. In Tampa, it is 25 percent.


The simple (yet unrecognized) fact of the matter is that auto-dependent societies have transferred an enormous financial burden on households when it comes to transportation. In traditionally-designed neighborhoods with transportation choice, only a modest amount of household spending goes toward transportation, because much of it is by walking, transit and bicycling. And the cost of building transit is paid for by the community, not the household. Conversely, an auto-based society transfers all of the transportation costs to individual households (the costs are privatized). Each household must buy its own car. Its own fuel. Its own insurance.


In recent years, I have been convinced that these more affordable, center-of-city neighborhoods are such a good investment that I’ve given a fair amount of thought to buying one or two of them for rental income. Given the fact that these neighborhoods have what urban designers call “good bones,” I am confident that buying a home there would be a good investment. And, conversely, that buying in a suburban, drivable location might not be.


[Postscript January 2009]

And as the housing bubble deflates, we are seeing precisely this. Walkable neighborhoods are holding their value. More recent, suburban homes are seeing their values plummeting.



Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.


Or email me at: dom[AT]

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Filed under Economics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

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