Urban amenities and talent attraction

Terrific CityLab article entitled The Real Source of American Urban Revival. It documents the trend we have been writing about for nearly a decade that young professionals far more than previous generations are concentrating in central cities not the suburbs. CityLab reports:

From 2000 to 2010, more college-educated professionals aged 25 to 34 moved downtown than to the suburbs in 39 of the 50 largest U.S. metros. For 35-to-44-year-olds, the same held true in 28 of the 50 largest metros. This revival was true in the places you might expect, like New York City or San Francisco, and in places you might not, like Cleveland. It was true despite historical trend lines showing that, for the better part of a century, the wealthy typically moved one way when it came to cities: out of them.

Citing new research by Victor Couture, University of California, Berkeley, and Jessie Handbury, University of Pennsylvania the article identifies the density of urban amenities as the primary draw of downtowns for young professionals. CityLab writes: “New living habits of Millennials and Baby Boomers, delays in starting a family, a tougher home-buying market, a hatred of long commutes—those social factors have all altered cities in recent years. But Couture and Handbury pin the return of downtown on a new fondness for service amenities: music venues, theaters, bars, gyms, and the like. Not the growth of these things but a fresh taste for living near them, a broad cultural shift that could make urban revival more durable.”

So its a change in consumer preferences not being unable to afford–-because of the bad economy and/or high student loan debt––that is driving young professionals to choose city living over buying a home in the burbs. Particularly in Michigan this has been a hard lesson to learn. Where conventional wisdom––despite lots of evidence to the contrary––is that the preferred good is a house in the suburbs, the inferior good is an apartment or condo in the city. Think again!

The private amenities that Couture and Hanbury emphasize as attractors of young talent require high residential density. Something that by and large has been missing in Michigan cities in part because housing and land use policy has discouraged density.

We believe there also are public amenities that matter as well. Particularly transit and other alternatives to driving or owning a car. This even more is missing in Michigan. Other public amenities that matter are parks and outdoor recreation and support for the arts. Not to mention basic services like public safety.

It all adds up to a need for public policy in Michigan that emphasizes city development––particularly residential development––as a priority. As former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wrote for the Financial Times: “Recent college graduates are flocking to Brooklyn not merely because of employment opportunities, but because it is where some of the most exciting things in the world are happening – in music, art, design, food, shops, technology and green industry. Economists may not say it this way but the truth of the matter is: being cool counts. When people can find inspiration in a community that also offers great parks, safe streets and extensive mass transit, they vote with their feet.” Having primarily a Detroit and Grand Rapids with these characteristics is the key to Michigan reversing decades of young college graduated going elsewhere.


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