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Smart Growth

Residential Construction Trends in America's Metropolitan Regions

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Background

Across the United States, many neighborhoods are experiencing dramatic transformations. Parking lots, underused commercial properties, and former industrial sites are being replaced by condominiums, apartments, townhouses, and small-lot single-family homes. These examples of residential infill—building new homes in previously developed areas—can help to create new housing choices, make neighborhoods livelier, increase the tax base, protect rural landscapes, reduce infrastructure costs, and conserve natural resources.

Infill can also provide significant environmental benefits compared to conventional suburban development. Developing more compactly in a location surrounded by existing development means residents can drive less if they choose, reducing air pollution. Less paved surface is needed for roads and parking lots, which reduces the amount of polluted stormwater runoff flowing into waterways. Learn more about the environmental benefits of smart growth and smart growth and infill development.

While examples of successful infill housing projects abound, big questions still remain: Do such examples add up to a fundamental shift in the geography of residential construction? Is infill housing construction on the rise? In which metropolitan regions is the shift to infill most significant? EPA explored these questions in a series of reports released in 2009, 2010, and 2012.

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2012 Report

Residential Construction Trends in America's Metropolitan Regions: 2012 Edition compares the location of new homes to data about pre-existing land cover to determine where infill development was taking place in 209 U.S. metropolitan regions between 2000 and 2009. The findings affirm the overall conclusions of the previous two reports while painting a more geographically detailed picture of infill development trends.

The report finds that:

  • Nearly three out of four large metropolitan regions saw an increased share of infill housing development in 2005-2009 compared to 2000-2004. 
  • Infill accounted for one-fifth of new housing construction. 
  • Infill residential development varied widely among metropolitan regions. 
  • Infill is associated with higher home prices and rail transit investment. 
  • Nearly all metropolitan regions are growing outward more than they are growing inward. 

The map shows how infill as a percentage of all housing construction varies among U.S. metropolitan regions.

Percentage of New Home Construction That Is Infill, 2000 - 2009. The map shows how infill as a percentage of all housing construction varies among U.S. metropolitan regions.Percentage of New Home Construction That Is Infill, 2000 - 2009
Sources: EPA analysis of 2009 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates, 2001 National Land Cover Database, Protected Areas Database of the United States (PADUS) version 1.2, and 2011 Navteq NAVSTREETS

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2009 and 2010 Reports

The 2009 and 2010 editions of Residential Construction Trends in America's Metropolitan Regions examined residential building permits in the 50 largest U.S. metropolitan regions at the county or jurisdictional level. The reports:

  • Explain how the data in the study was organized, the types of redevelopment included, and other significant limitations of the analysis.
  • Describe the trends for central cities and core suburban communities across the 50 regions.
  • Provide tables and charts with sub-regional detail for the seven regions with the strongest shift toward redevelopment.
  • Place trends in a national context.
  • Identify key future research questions.

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