March 2016

from the University of Texas, explores how Americans have moved from one place to another, clustering themselves in increasingly homogeneous communities. To illustrate his point about America’s “big sort,” Bishop enlightens readers about the two different “lifestyle” communities in one master-planned neighborhood in Orange County, California. “Before developers built the Ladera Ranch subdivision in Orange County, California, they surveyed likely residents about their beliefs and values. People fell into distinct groups — and that’s the way the development was built. There is “Covenant Hills” for the faithful (big family rooms and traditional suburban architecture) and “Terramor” for what the developers call the “cultural creatives” (bamboo floors and instead of a family room, a “cultural room”). There is a Christian school for the believers in Covenant Hills and a Montessori school for the “cultural creatives” in Terramor. More than 16,000 people live in the subdivision now, and what’s vaguely creepy is that people drive in the same entrance and then split off into neighborhoods designed for different lifestyles and values — the 21st century version of nineteenth century “island communities. ” Superficially, the sweeping balkanization phenomenon Bishop describes in his book is not new. Because Americans are so mobile — we move on average every seven years — U.S. housing refugee have been wandering throughout North ‘The Big Sort’

America for decades, if not a century or more.

For housing refugees, many state governments make it easy to make moving decisions. For example, Texas has no income and capital tax; California, on the other hand, has the nation’s highest income and capital gains tax rate. Growing regional disparities in housing costs encourage a shift of resources — most notably labor from high-cost to low-cost areas as workers seek a higher standard of living as influenced by access to quality housing. Additionally, businesses will also shift their operations from high-cost areas to remain competitive in national and global markets. Census bureau data show that states with high housing costs — California, New York, and Washington, D.C. — have lost significant domestic population to states with more moderate housing costs like Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. These losses were concentrated in high-cost major metropolitan areas, while smaller metropolitan and rural areas often gained population. Many Americans are moving because they are being forced out by rising housing costs. Nationwide, median home prices have historically been about twice family incomes. But in cities that have tried to restrict growth, including New York City, San Francisco, and San Jose, California, housing prices are three to five times greater than family incomes. If Woody Guthrie were alive today he’d probably be singing about Californians moving eastward to Texas — the new housing garden of Eden.


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