How much it costs to live in the cheaper suburbs or expensive New York City

Opponents of sprawl argue that while many prospective buyers move further away from work in order to buy bigger yet cheaper homes, there is a cost. One website argues that the each mile closer to work is $15,900 that could be spent on a house:

We all know that driving to and from work every day is costly, but exactly howmuch of a toll does each mile of commuting take on your finances? This True Cost of Commuting graphic breaks it down.

Taking stats and calculations previously mentioned by Mr. Money Mustache, the infographic illustrates just how expensive commuting is. Each mile you live from work costs $795 in commuting expenses per year (assuming a driving cost of 34 cents per mile and factoring time lost with a salary of $25 per hour). $795 a year for just one mile! You could buy a house worth $15,900 more with that, as Mr. Money Mustache pointed out in his article, since $795 would cover the interest on a 5% mortgage rate.

If you don’t want to calculate in the time-is-money factor, each mile (one way) of commuting will cost you $170 a year. It’s a compelling reason to move as close to work if you can (or bike to work or telecommute).

See the large infographic here. I don’t know about Mr. Money Mustache’s calculations but this is a sizable number.

At the same time, there were reports this week that the Occupy Wall Street protestors tend to live in pricier homes. As Megan McArdle notes, this is a consumption choice where people decide to spend more of their income on a home in a great city:

My initial reaction was the same as many people I’ve seen in comments sections: the protest is in New York, which is expensive.  This is hardly surprising.

But on second thought, I don’t think that’s quite right.  At least some of the houses identified by the Daily Caller are in places like Texas and Wisconsin.  But more importantly, I’m not sure we should “discount” these home values for location.  The fact is that living in an expensive city is a consumption choice.
You hear this argument all the time from people in New York.  “Rich?  Hah!  We’ve got four people in 1600 square feet, and our school bills are going to put us into bankruptcy.”  Many New Yorkers believe that they should be given some sort of income tax abatement because of the expense of living there (with the lost revenue being made up from “really rich” people, natch).  Slightly less affluent New Yorkers frequently believe that landlords should be forced to offer them “reasonably sized” apartments at a modest fraction of their income, because after all, otherwise they couldn’t afford to live in New York…
Living in a blue state is a choice.  If coming to New York meant that you had to put four people in a three bedroom apartment that’s uncomfortably far from a subway line, instead of buying a nice little condo in Omaha, this does not mean that you are not “really” better off than your counterpart in Omaha; it means that you have chosen to consume your extra wealth in the form of “living in New York” rather than in the form of spacious real estate, cheap groceries, and an easy commute.

So what people in the Midwestern suburbs might spend on a daily 20 mile each way commute in a SUV translates into a more expensive apartment in New York City.

Both stories cited above suggest consumption is a choice. But is it truly an unfettered choice? What would lead some people to aim for the bigger yet cheaper house in the suburbs and others to spend more money on a smaller place in a cosmopolitan paradise? Perhaps this information would help both sides engage in conversation rather than talk past each other and try to force the other side to follow their logic…

Of course, we could look at the broader trend of American political and cultural discourse on this subject. On the whole, government policies have promoted suburban living while a few big cities, such as New York City, have successful dense, mass-transit oriented living. Cultural discourse, even if it is shifting toward the younger generation’s increased interest in denser living, still privileges the suburban American Dream.

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