Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : May 8th 2014 Contents MAY 2014 • WEEK TWO www.guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG15
he ubiquitous image of
the single-family home
nestled on 10,000 square
feet on land, a backyard
complete with a swing
set, and a gas-guzzling
SUV in the driveway is now the Trinida-
Or is it?
The Minister of Housing and Urban
Development, recently interviewed for
the April 27 Sunday Business Guardian
article, Renting Your Way Home, pro-
claimed that Trinbagonians mostly oppose
“vertical living” and prefer single-family
homes, but that there is a very gradual
shift towards more dense living arrange-
ments by middle-class professionals.
Does this pronouncement truly reflect
the realities of the market?
In the absence of easily-accessible
data—as is the reality of most analytical
endeavours in Trinidad—we can take a
broader look at the trends shaping the
housing market of the United States, the
country that has most influenced our
patterns of housing development.
In her highly-praised book, The End
of the Suburbs: Where the American
Dream is Moving, Leigh Gallagher metic-
ulously shows why the American sub-
urban lifestyle is undergoing a major par-
adigm shift. Suburbs, though hard to
define, are generally characterised by low-
density, predominantly single-family
neighbourhoods on the periphery of urban
centres. They are, more often than not,
designed in a way that requires the use
of a car to carry out even the simplest
Suburban living is particularly attractive
to the nuclear family, which is itself com-
ing to an end. The United States birth
rate in 2011 was 12.7 per 1,000 population,
down from 23.7 per 1,000 in 1960. In
T&T, that rate was 14.7 and 37.3 per 1,000,
respectively. Furthermore, the number
of households consisting of one person
was 27 per cent in the US in 2012, and
19 per cent for T&T in 2011. In other
words, the segment of the population
that drove the single family, suburban
market for decades is swiftly shrinking.
Who are the next generation of home-
owners and renters, and what do they
The millennials—as Gallagher describes
those born between 1977 and 1995—are
different from their parents. About 77 per
cent of them, according to one survey, pre-
fer to live in an urban area. The National
Association of Realtors found that 67 per
cent of them prefer to live in a neighbour-
hood with a mixture of houses and busi-
nesses near transportation than in a com-
munity with large lots and no sidewalks.
Furthermore, data suggests they may be
the first group of young people since the
mass production of the automobile to have
a waning interest in cars and driving. In
other words, they want to live in an area
where they can walk to the grocery store,
a restaurant or a bar. They want to spend
their down time on recreational pursuits
instead of mowing the lawn.
Many of our citizens currently live in
T&T Society of Planners
The next frontier for
real estate development?
townhouses and apartment complexes. However, you’d
be hard-pressed to find one of these housing develop-
ments that gives its residents the true benefits of den-
sity—the ability to have easy access to amenities on foot
or by public transport.
An apartment complex on a remote Maraval hillside,
or on the outskirts of some far-flung suburban com-
munity, provides its residences with all the downsides
of density, with none of the benefits. It’s no wonder we
reportedly have an aversion to “vertical living.” The best
local attempt has been the One Woodbrook Place devel-
opment. Unfortunately, it has suffered due to the recent
global financial crisis, and even more so by targeting an
already over-saturated high-end market.
Urban housing has proven to be lucrative. Gallagher
points out that real estate development firm Toll Brothers,
a company synonymous with the construction of sub-
urban mansions, declares that their best markets are
now cities. In fact, city living has become so desirable
that following the recent Great Recession in the United
States, housing values in cities held up far better than
those in the suburbs.
It may sound radical—Trinidadians preferring to live
in walkable neighbourhoods—but a major shift in the
market is inevitable. It will become evident that areas
like St Clair, for instance, and others bordering the
Queen’s Park Savannah, are part of the next frontier of
housing development for the north-west, placing residents
at the centre of a walkable environment with a vast
array of amenities.
End of the suburbs laments that the policies of the
American government created one American dream at
the expense of all others.
Local policies of artificially limiting the housing supply
in urban centres through draconian density and building
height limits, the subsidisation of gasoline, and the failure
to develop a competent public transportation system,
have likewise created one Trinidadian dream.
Are our real estate developers finally willing to help
create an alternative?
Submitted by a member of the
T&T Society of Planners
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