Back to the Cities Movement Illusory, Suburbs Rule

As reported in this article from Quillette, with hat-tip to Urbanexus.

An excerpt.

“Earlier in this decade, cities—the bigger and denser the better—appeared as the planet’s geographic stars. According to Benjamin Barber, author of the 2013 book If Mayors Ruled the World, everyone would be better off if the ineffective, aging nation-state were replaced by rule from the most evolved urban areas. This, Barber argues, would provide the “building blocks” of global governance run by a “parliament of mayors.”

“In reality, the validity of the “back to the city” meme was never as pronounced as its boosters believed. And now it seems, if anything, to be reversing—first demographically, then economically—as workers and key industries seek more affordable and congenial environments. Furthermore, many elite urban centers are diverging, sometimes radically, from national norms which produces a political conundrum. As big city politics shift ever further to the left, particularly on climate and “social justice” issues, not only are they becoming toxic to the middle class, they are becoming places many avoid rather than models that invite imitation.

“The Demographic Evidence

“In the 1990s, following decades marked by shrinking or stagnant city populations, major American cities like New York, San Francisco, and Boston began, once again, to attract residents. But the big action was in the developing world. In China, the urbanization rate increased from 19 percent in 1979 to nearly 60 percent in 2018, according to Li Tie, president of the China Center for Urban Development. By 2020, Shanghai, the largest city will have quadrupled in size to 24 million over a half century, while Beijing will have grown by three times to 20 million. Even so, in both the Capital and the financial center has been outside the urban cores.

“As economist Jed Kolko has observed, the “historic” shift back to the inner city appears to have peaked. In the United States since 2012, suburbs and exurbs have been  growing faster with seven times as many people as the core. Suburbs are also seeing a strong net movement among educated people, those earning over $75,000 and, especially, those between the ages of 30 and 44. More revealing still, the county’s three largest cities—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago—are now losing population again.

“Even scholar Richard Florida, arguably the world’s most influential urbanist, suggests that new growth of the “creative class”—the well-educated millennials critical to the urban renaissance—is “shifting away from superstar cities.” Growth in numbers of such prized workers is now two to three times faster in Salt Lake, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Grand Rapids, MI than in regions around New York, Los Angeles, or Washington, DC.

“These elite cities, of course, still attract young people straight from college, but many don’t stay long. A new Brookings study shows that New York now suffers the largest net annual outmigration of post-college millennials (aged 25–34) of any metropolitan area—followed by Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Diego. Nearly half of all millennials in San Francisco described themselves as “likely” to leave the city by the Bay, a dramatic shift from a decade earlier.

“Demographer Wendell Cox has noted that similar dispersive patterns can also be found in Europe. Since the 1970s, Europe’s suburbs have accounted for virtually all the growth in virtually every urban area, including Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen, and Dublin. Zurich, a paragon of efficiency, has gone from 87 percent inner city to 68 percent suburban since 1950. Over the past three decades, across the continent’s largest 16 metropolitan areas, the suburbs and exurbs gained 8.2 million while the population overall declined in the cores. London, Europe’s premier cosmopolitan city, shows a similar pattern. Inner London grew well in the first decade of the millennium, gaining nearly 900,000 since 1991 (although it remains well below the 5,000,000 peak reached in 1911). The suburbs and exurbs, over the same period added roughly two million residents.”

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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