Patterns – Migration, Commuting and Development

During the 1992 presidential campaign, Ross Perot made significant points referring to NAFTA as creating “a giant sucking sound as jobs migrated to Mexico”.  This quote came to mind as I reviewed the commuting and migration patterns for our region as outlined in the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission(TJPDC) “The State of Housing Report”.

According to the report from 1999-2004 there was a net in-migration of 7,818 persons to the TJPDC footprint (includes Charlottesville, Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene, Louisa and Nelson).  It highlights that within the PDC there is “a distinct pattern of people moving out of Charlottesville and Albemarle and into the rural counties, with Fluvanna County receiving the most people from within the Planning District.  The patterns suggest that the cost of housing is a factor in the out-migration.”

Interestingly, the report shows over 15,000 workers were commuting from the outlying counties into the Charlottesville/Albemarle region it its important to note this number does not include the significant cohort commuting from Augusta, Buckingham, or Orange counties. 

The report correctly identifies the significant housing cost differential between the Charlottesville/Albemarle region and the outlying counties.  It also highlights the higher commuting costs and lost time with families.  In my experience, this is a decision home buyers consider carefully and almost universally choose more house and an increased commute (and the related costs). 

In a recent Atlantic article Christopher Leinberger of The Brookings Institute predicts the outburbs of McMansions will be the slums of tomorrow.   While I agree the market for urban residential housing is growing, I do not foresee Leinberger’s widespread doom of the suburbs as we know it.  Young families will still want to go where they can buy a single family home with a small yard for the children to play in.  These will be the minivans you see filling the streets on Saturday mornings running to soccer games and then to Sam’s Club.  The same vans will be ferrying their parents from their suburban oasis into the urban core of Charlottesville/Albemarle each and every workday. 

While past performance does not completely predict future action, building a community vision based on the faulty notion that a majority of consumers will be willing to give up their cars and live in condos above retail and take transit to work is foolish.

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