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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Extent and Determinants of Dissonance Between Actual and Preferred Residential Neighborhood Type

  • Author(s): Schwanen, Tim
  • Mokhtarian, Patricia L.
  • et al.

While households’ general preference for low-density residential environments is well documented in the literature, little research in geography and urban planning has explicitly investigated how many and which households experience a state of mismatch in terms of land use patterns between their preferred residential neighborhood type and the type of neighborhood where they currently reside. Using data from 1,358 commuters living in three communities in the San Francisco Bay Area, this study finds that nearly a quarter of the residents live in a neighborhood type that does not match their land-use related preferences. The results of an investigation of the determinants of such dissonance are consistent with existing knowledge about residential preferences. It is shown that single suburban dwellers and large households and families in the city are more likely to be mismatched, or experience higher levels of mismatch in terms of neighborhood type. Further, the extent of mismatch is clearly related to automobile orientation, as well as to lifestyles and personality traits. The results suggest that policies aiming to attract a diverse market to neo-traditional, high-density neighborhoods may not be as effective as decision-makers and planners hope. If a broad range of households is artificially attracted to such new developments, e.g. through providing financial advantages or other policy incentives, this might on average result in lower levels of residential satisfaction, higher residential mobility, lower sense of community, and enduring auto dependency. On the other hand, it is encouraging to see that there is also a substantial proportion of suburban dwellers preferring high-density environments. Relaxation of land use laws in existing suburban communities might be successful in reducing residential neighborhood type dissonance for these types of suburban dwellers, but perhaps at the cost of increasing dissonance for the suburbanites preferring lower densities. It would be valuable to investigate whether there is a mix of densities and uses that would optimally satisfy both types of preferences.

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