Being that various housing “booms” over the last 30 years exacerbated some of the excesses of suburban sprawl, it was a little surprising, and refreshing, this week to see the National Association of Realtors — an organization whose life blood is housing sales — release a report with the headline, “NAR Study Finds Americans Prefer Smart Growth Communities.”

The Realtors commission “Community Preference Surveys” on different topics from time to time and the latest was about Smart Growth. “The survey reveals that most Americans would like to live in walkable communities where shops, restaurants, and local business are within an easy walk from their homes, as long as those communities can provide detached single-family homes,” the group concluded. “The survey also shows that most Americans would choose a smaller home and smaller lot if it would keep their commute time to 20 minutes or less.”

There was plenty of fodder for thought in the polling data, but perhaps most surprising was that a sizable percentage of respondents thought their communities had worsened in the past few years, compared to the last time a comparable survey was conducted in 2004.  By a 4-1 margin, folks also responded that the quality of their neighborhood was more important than the size of their house. And by a large majority, 56-43, respondents said that living with shopping, restaurants, public transportation options, a library and school within a few blocks would be better than the alternative. 

Before a Smart Growth advocate could break out his party hat, other responses indicated a continued appetite for large houses and plenty of retail parking — features that don’t jibe with smarter, sustainable patterns of land use.  But the survey does show support for smarter growth taken as a whole. Respondents strongly desired state government to focus improvements on existing communities and to hold down costs (and making more efficient use of existing infrastructure in Smart Growth would help do that). And what folks really desire is a grocery store near where they live: Perhaps the Hooverian rallying cry “A chicken in every pot …” needs to be dusted off for a new, sustainable age: A chicken, and deli counter, on every other block.