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Living by the Popsicle Rule

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By Jonathan Yeomans, on June 21, 2010

The Triangle region is big, and if current projections hold, it’s going to get much, much bigger in the next two decades.

The state’s Office of State Budget and Management estimates that the Research Triangle Region’s population will grow by 1.2 million people between 2008 and 2028 (when some of us will be 46. Wow). Add that to the 2 million people who currently live in the area’s 13 counties and the result will be one of the largest regions in the Southeast.

Those people will probably want places to live. Whether it’s traditional homes, apartments or really sweet tents, residents will demand housing, and housing will require space. So where will all the housing go?

The TJCOG has made planning for this future growth one of its top priorities. In January, it released a report called Living by the Popsicle Rule: The Market for Living in Vibrant Centers and Walkable Neighborhoods. The title comes from a planning axiom that describes a simple way to determine if development is compact, complete and connected. That is: “A child must be able to walk safely from home to buy a Popsicle within 5 minutes.” The report discusses the benefits of compact, mixed-used development, and suggests that that there is an underserved and growing market of people who want to live in compact communities*.

Most research has shown that the majority of people in America would prefer to live in large-lot, detached, single-family homes. A house with a white picket fence and yard is still the American Dream. But about 20 to 30 percent of respondents said they’d like to live in compact, walkable neighborhoods that have a variety of uses and modes of transportation, such as rail lines and buses. Many of the people who prefer this kind of lifestyle are people like myself and my parents — Millennials and Baby Boomers. Millennials are starting families later in life and don’t need all that space. Similar case with Baby Boomers. Most of their children no longer live in the household, so they don’t need as much space, and as they get older, it’s easier to be self-sufficient in a compact community.

Plus, with the rising cost of gas, volatile energy prices and the subprime mortgage fiasco and corresponding collapse in the housing market, more and more people would rather live in a small, energy-efficient homes than in a huge McMansion way out yonder in the boonies.

The problem is that even though only 20 to 30 percent of the market wants to live in compact, mixed-use communities, demand is still greater than supply. As a result, the prices of places in downtown Raleigh, for example, are prohibitively expensive.

Demand for complete, compact and connected housing will only increase in the near future. Baby Boomers aren’t getting younger and Millennials aren’t all suddenly going to have babies and decide to move to the ‘burbs. Hopefully, the TJCOG and local governments will be able to collaborate with progressive developers and create more of this kind of housing. I would go for it. I’m tired of driving to get my popsicle.

*Think some of the areas of Meadowmont and Southern Village in Chapel Hill or American Tobacco, West Village and the Golden Belt in Durham

Tags: TJCOG, The Popsicle Rule, growth | Categories: Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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One Response to “Living by the Popsicle Rule”

  1. Amy Strecker

    Very interesting! I’d never heard of the popsicle rule, but the concept makes sense to me.

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