Monday, August 12, 2013

The Mystery of the Urban Renaissance

Why are the nation's urban centers growing again? The reasons are complex and not easily explained, often resulting in circular arguments such as "Millennials apparently drive less because they prefer walkable places and they prefer walkable places because they drive less," says Robert Steuteville, editor and publisher of Better! Cities and Towns.

Steuteville unravels the mystery of why cities are growing in one of the most insightful pieces on the topic to date. He thinks four factors are behind the growing preference for urban life. Although his analysis doesn't get into details (whole books could be written about each factor), by identifying and linking the processes driving urban growth Steuteville goes a long way toward explaining one of the most important trends of our time.

1. Millennials "looked around their home towns and saw something missing," says Steuteville. Take a drive and you soon see what he means. In the decades since the baby-boom generation populated small town and suburban America, those areas have lost their soul. Mom and Pop establishments, once the foundation of community, have been replaced by Dollar stores, AutoZones, Walmarts, and McDonalds staffed by minimum wage workers and vacuuming local dollars away from the community. Today's small towns and suburbs are devoid of a sense of place and offer little economic opportunity for the most highly educated generation in history.

2. "The higher the education level, the greater the demand for urban living," reports Steuteville. No wonder, then, that Millennials are flocking to cities—the generation is better educated than any other. Nearly two-thirds have college experience and one-third has a bachelor's degree. With so many Millennials spending years in walkable college neighborhoods, says Steuteville, they have tasted a higher quality of life and want more of it.

3. The fact is, of course, they can't afford to buy a house in the suburbs even if they wanted one. Student debt, says Steuteville, prevents Millennials from spending on houses and cars.

4. "But the biggest incentive may be their peers," Steuteville concludes. Millennials are moving to urban centers because that's where their friends are, he explains. With the median age at first marriage at a record high for both men and women, Millennials face a choice—live with Mom and Dad in a dead zone or join their friends in a vibrant urban area where jobs are growing and opportunities abound.

"The tide has shifted and it's carrying 80 million people inward," concludes Steuteville.

Source: Better! Cities and Towns, Why Are Young Adults Returning to the City?

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