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Los Angeles Is Changing In The Two Most Fundamental Ways

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Roughly since World War II, the car and the single-family house (with its trusty sidekick the yard) have teamed up to create the popular view of Southern California as a hot, sprawling wasteland criss-crossed by jam-packed freeways. But that's changing: data out today shows that SoCal house-buying is down, condo-buying is up, car use is down, and transit use is up. It's a new day in Los Angeles; adjust your snobberies accordingly.

As a new SoCal real estate bubble inflates, fewer people than ever can afford to buy houses, but some can still afford to buy condos--one condo-buying financial analyst tells the LA Times "A single-family house with a backyard is just a beautiful thing … But that is a luxury." (Yeah, that's a finance guy calling a backyard a luxury. This is not your parents' America.) In October, the median price for a SoCal condo was $72,500 less than the median price for a house; sales of existing houses fell 7.2 percent over last year, while condo resales rose 3.3 percent. From January to October this year, condo sales have made up 22 percent of all home sales in Southern California.

But the shift toward denser living isn't completely about housing costs--younger people actually like living in city environments, where they can walk or ride transit to their jobs or friends' or bar. And as the director of UCLA's Ziman Center for Real Estate tells the Times "The median-priced condo is significantly better located than the median single-family home ... It's probably closer in, with less of a commute, and it's closer to entertainment."

Which brings us to a new study showing that Southern Californians (and Americans in general) have started to use their cars less and the transit system more over the past decade as gas prices have risen, Baby Boomers have stopped working, and transit and car-sharing have expanded. In 2010 (the latest year for the data), Southern Californians drove 2.3 percent fewer miles than they did in 2006, for a total reduction of about 2.9 billion miles. The number of people commuting by car dropped by about 2 percent. Meanwhile, public transit mileage increased by about 14 percent, with total trips up about 1.1 percent. Since this data was collected, Metro has also opened the Expo Line light rail and an extension of the Orange Line busway.

The guys who wrote the transportation study suggest that "public officials should begin to move money away from highway expansion and toward projects that encourage transit use, bicycling and walking." California might never give up its moronic freeway projects (e.g., the 405 Freeway widening nightmare, which will not actually improve traffic), but in the past few years, SoCal has gotten very serious about expanding the Metro rail and busway system, installing new bike infrastructure, and creating more pedestrian-friendly streets and public places. Now bring us some good news on plastic surgery, please, researchers.
· Southland home buyers shifting to condos as house prices rise [LAT]
· SoCal residents are driving less, taking transit more, study says [LAT]