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Twilight for suburban sprawl in Central PA?

“Fast food and fast housing are shaped by one of modernism’s core philosophies — the promise to make life better by making it easier. This powerful promise continues to capture the imagination of the majority of people, despite the mounting evidence of just how much harm it has wrought. … Most of the development created by the fast-housing industry has resulted in environmentally unsustainable, culturally homogenous neighborhoods of single-family detached houses and strip retail…

I don’t know about you, but I find this quote to be incredibly engaging while at the same time challenging. The “slow homes” movement joins other more well-trodden paths in architecture as the “not so big house” viewpoint pioneered by Sarah Susanka over a decade ago, and “the new urbanism.” The general concept is to push back against “cookie cutter” neighborhoods. You know the ones I mean.

On the municipal front, there have been efforts made to curtail runaway development in our agricultural areas. I won’t dig too deep into that (smart growth is a whole other column) except to note that the vast majority of builders, if not developers, continue to prefer suburban ground to dig up, forcing the issue here in Central PA. On the other hand, downtown municipalities would likely welcome urban entrepreneurs, but the list isn’t quite as long.

In an area like Central Pennsylvania we see, read about and tend to understand clear distinctions between our urban and suburban areas. It’s also been my observation that there are fairly strong opinions on what real estate environment is preferred. Interestingly, my personal client base happens to strongly prefer the urban/semi-urban neighborhood scenario — millennials and younger Gen Xers mostly. This is definitely a change in the direction of urbanism from my own generation.

Another piece in the puzzle is the rise of 55 communities that use less land and offer a community experience. But some retirees are even opting themselves for the urban experience — I just this week had an older client wrap up a contract on a Lancaster downtown home.

I predict that as these real estate consumer groups expand we’ll see increasing pressure in the market for smaller floor plans, more connected neighborhoods that eschew the “cookie cutter” philosophy and way better use of the land. I for one will be glad.

What do you think? Do you see a return to “urbanism” from the one-house-one-suburban lot philosophy?

Jeff Geoghan is a residential real estate agent and founder of the Jeff Geoghan Realty Group in Lancaster County. He also hosts “YourLancasterHomeTV.” He holds a Green designation from the National Association of Realtors and blogs about homes and green issues.

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