Contrary to the urbanist’s hopeful narrative, the suburbs are doing great, urban centers not, as this story from New Geography reports.
The past decade has seen a gusher of books arguing for and detailing the supposed ascendency of dense urban cores, like the inimitable Edward Glaeser’s influential Triumph of the City: How Our Greatest Invention Makes Us Richer, Smarter, Greener, Healthier, and Happier, and about the ‘burbs as the slums of the future, abandoned by businesses and young people, like Leigh Gallagher’s The Death of Suburbia: Where the American Dream Is Moving.
But as we show in Infinite Suburbia, the new book we co-edited, the vast majority of American economic and demographic growth continues to take place there.
Let’s start with people.
Cities are about people. Where they move suggests their reasonable aspirations.
Even when Levittown was being built 70 years ago, there has always been a portion of the population — particularly the young, well-educated, affluent and often childless — that craves the density and excitement of downtown (CBD) life. But this group — heavy with members of the media — consequently attracts vastly outsized attention.
In fact, 151 million people live in America’s suburbs and exurbs, more than six times the 25 million people who live in the urban cores (defined as CBDs with employment density of 20,000+ people per square mile, or places with a population density of 7,500+ people per square mile—the urban norm before the advent of the automobile) of the 53 metropolitan areas with populations over one million.
In fact, ten of those 53 metropolitan areas (including Charlotte, Orlando, Phoenix and San Antonio) have no urban core at all by this measure, according to demographer Wendell Cox. The New York City metropolitan area is America’s only one where more people live in the urban core than in the suburbs — and it’s about an even split there.
In the last decade, about 90% of U.S. population growth has been in suburbs and exurbs, with CBDs accounting for .8% of growth and the entire urban corps for roughly 10%. In this span, population growth of some of the most alluring core cities — New York, Chicago, Philadelphia— has declined considerably. Manhattan and Brooklyn, have both seen their rate of growth decline by more than 85% since 2011. Nationally, core counties lost over 300,000 net domestic migrants In 2016 (with immigrants replacing some some of those departees), while their suburbs gained nearly 250,000.
The canaries in the coal mine
Three key groups — seniors, minorities and millennials — all prefer the suburbs.
More than 10,000 boomers turn 65 each day; between 2015 and 2025, the number of senior households, according to the Joint Center on Housing Studies at Harvard University, will grow by 10.7 million. By 2050, the over-65 population will have doubled to 80 million.
Despite much talk about seniors moving “back to the city,” the Census numbers suggest the opposite. Since 2010, the senior population in core cities has gone up by 621,000 —compared to 2.6 million in the suburbs. The share of seniors in both the inner core and older suburbs (those built before 1980) dropped between 2000 and 2010, while it’s grown substantially in newer suburbs and exurbs. A recent survey by Pulte Homes found that most boomers are seeking places near nature and with large garages; not exactly what you are likely to find, much less afford, in San Francisco. The “back to the city” phenomena, like many urban trends, is largely restricted to the wealthy.
Minorities, too, have headed for suburbia. Already the majority of African-Americans in the nation’s one hundred largest metros live in the suburbs; in 1990, 57 percent lived in inner cities. Since 2000, reports Brookings, the percentage of immigrants living in suburbs has shot up five points, to 61 percent. Overall,76 percent of the growth in the foreign-born population between 2000 and 2013 in the largest metro areas occurred in the suburbs.
More than one-third of the 13.3 million new suburbanites between 2000 and 2010 were Hispanic, with whites accounting for one-fifth of suburban growth in that period. And as Asians have become the biggest immigrant group arriving in America, many are skipping cities altogether. The Asian population in suburban areas grew 66.2 percent between 2000 and 2012, nearly twice the 34.9 increase in the core urban population.
But the most significant shift relates to Millennials. Roughly two-thirds of them, according to a recent Wall Street Journal survey, want a suburban experience for their future families. Census data, as analyzed by the website 538, shows that not only are people aged 25 to 29 about 25% more likely to move to a suburb than city, but that 30 to 44 year olds are leaving cities for suburbs at a much faster clip than they did in the 1990s. The National Association of Realtors sees the same trend, with young buyers shifting to suburban locations.
Some of this reflects the consequence of success in some cities, expressed in soaring prices, but much of the change is fundamentally about growing up. Research by economist Jed Kolko shows that urban residence continues to drop precipitously with age. This also comports with the findings of surveys from the Conference Board, the Urban Land Institute, and the National Association of Homebuilders, which found that 75% of millennials favor settling in a suburban house, but only 10% in the urban core.
This process will accelerate as millenials begin, albeit often later than previous generations, to start families. Some 1.3 million millennial women gave birth for the first time in 2015, raising the total number of U.S. women in this generation who have become mothers to more than 16 million.
Retrieved December 4, 2017 from http://www.newgeography.com/content/005815-the-urban-revival-is-urban-myth-and-suburbs-are-surging