Why are Developers Still Building Sprawl?

Alana Semuels, writing for the Atlantic:

MyBiggestFan, Flickr

MyBiggestFan, Flickr

LAS VEGAS—A decade ago, home builders put up thousands of new spacious stucco homes in the desert here, with marble countertops, ample square footage, and walk-in kitchen cupboards.

Then the recession hit, the values of these homes plummeted, and economists talked of the overbuilding of Las Vegas.

Now, though, developers are building once again, on projects derailed during the recession, including master-planned communities such as the 1,700-acre Skye Canyon, the 2,700-acre Park Highlands, the 1,900-acre Inspirada, and 555 acres of luxury living in an area called Summerlin.

The homes being built here and in many cities across the country look very similar to the ones built during the boom. Some, in fact, are even bigger. The average single-family home built in 2013 was 2,598 square feet, 80 feet larger than the average single-family house built in 2008, and 843 feet larger than homes built in 1978, according to Census Bureau data...

It may be surprising to hear that so little has changed in the homebuilding industry since the recession, especially in Las Vegas, one of the epicenters of the housing bust. After all, low gas prices aside, surveys suggest that both Boomers and younger generations are interested in living in more urban places where they don’t have to spend so much time in the car getting to and from work. They also don’t mind smaller homes, especially if they’re close to public transit or retail or restaurants. And studies have shown that sprawl has negative health impacts: People who live in far-out suburbs walk less, eat more, and exercise less than those who live in urban environments.