A new survey in the United States revealed that only 12% of future home buyers wanted to purchase a home in the suburban-fringe. A decade ago, it is quite possible that the number would have been reversed with over 80% wanting a large suburban home. Certainly, house prices were more expensive on a per square foot basis than in mature urban markets.
We have more than survey evidence of what people say. You can see it in the housing prices–what they are doing (where they are putting their money).
In the US, housing prices in higher density, older urban areas have begun to rise. From the New York Times
Today, the most expensive housing is in the high-density, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods of the center city and inner suburbs. Some of the most expensive neighborhoods in their metropolitan areas are Capitol Hill in Seattle; Virginia Highland in Atlanta; German Village in Columbus, Ohio, and Logan Circle in Washington. Considered slums as recently as 30 years ago, they have been transformed
Meanwhile in some suburban fringe locations it is hard to give away a McMansion–or they are being used as low-cost (!) student housing.
In Canada, you could see the shift in urban vs suburban housing prices beginning in about 2003. Urban prices began to rise more quickly than suburban ones. What began as a trickle of people choosing a more urban lifestyle has become a flood, with various consequences and responses from residents, city halls and builders.
In Toronto there has been a massive push to add housing supply downtown–in the form of condominiums (there are more under construction in Toronto than anywhere else in the world). This actually improved affordability for switching from rental to ownership in Toronto between 2006 and 2010.
In Vancouver city itself (the urban core) the most significant evidence comes in the pricing of ground oriented housing. In neighbourhoods with good transit, walkable and close to downtown prices have tripled (that is risen 200%) for detached homes in about 7 years. Officially, the stats for East Vancouver say prices are up 41% in 5 years and on the west side 71% in 5 years. Meanwhile in the suburbs, prices are up only 14% in 5 years.
In Calgary, a city that once sold itself on offering less-expensive, suburban-style housing than Vancouver or Toronto now promotes its urban-ness. Condos are sprouting up on the fringe of downtown, particularly in the Beltline and areas immediately south. And money is being pumped into museums and the arts (it is cowboy country no more).
The challenge going forward for all cities in North America will likely be to ensure enough amenities (parks and recreation) and services (including transit) are available to a much larger population than a given geography has ever held before.