Asking “why aren’t Americans moving to the city”

Even as the percentage of Americans who live in the suburbs has increased over the decades, one writer asks “why aren’t Americans moving to the city?

Polling by the real estate advising firm RCLCO finds that 88 percent of Millenials want to live in cities. Their parents, the Baby Boomers, also express a burning desire to live in denser, less car-dependent settings. But in the past decade, many major cities saw population declines, and the overwhelming majority of population growth was in the suburbs…

Methinks we may have jumped the gun on the whole collapse of the suburbs bit…

For the Millenials, the showstopper was jobs, or lack thereof. They managed to survive the last few years of college, but lacking paying work in the city, they’ve moved back in with mom and dad. So now they’re all kicking it in the TV room back on Deerhaven Drive, watching It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia reruns and dreaming of big city living.

There are other factors that have slowed down the great urban migration that predate our recent economic woes: Crime rates are down nationwide, but that has done little to diminish the perception that cities are dark, violent places. Poverty, addiction, and blight still haunt many urban centers. Then there are the kids. The Millenials aren’t the first generation of young people to get all stoked about the city. The ones before them continue to pick up and leave as soon as Junior hits school age.

Of course, much of this is the result of ill-advised investment: We’ve poured money into unsustainable suburban development while starving the urban centers. (One writer on this website recently argued convincingly that subsidized sprawl is a giant Ponzi scheme.)

But I think there is a deeper force at work here. Here’s another headline that reads like it could have come out of the Onion: “Almost half of Americans want to live somewhere else.”

It’s actually from USA Today, and the accompanying story looks at a 2009 PEW Research Center poll that found that 46 percent of the public “would rather live in a different type of community from the one they’re living in now — a sentiment that is most prevalent among city dwellers.”…

Listen, I don’t mean to belabor this point. This is all just to say that the urban renaissance is not fait accompli.

This seems like a reasonable argument to me: there is no guarantee, as some critics have suggested, that Americans will see the error of the suburbs and flock back to the city. For many Americans, the suburbs seem to offer the best alternative to other living options: it combines some of more rural living (a bit of land) and more urban living (amenities nearby). Attacks on the suburbs won’t necessarily change their minds though higher costs of living (gas prices, less valuable houses) might.

The cited survey is also interesting. The Pew website about the survey is titled “For Nearly Half of America, Grass Is Greener Somewhere Else.” Are Americans simply afflicted with an itch to be somewhere else? Is this manifest destiny in action? Also in this survey:

Americans are all over the map in their views about their ideal community type: 30% say they would most like to live in a small town, 25% in a suburb, 23% in a city and 21% in a rural area.

If you combined the small town and suburban percentages, you would get almost the exact percentage of Americans who live in the suburbs. So when people responded that they would prefer a small town, do they really mean a suburban small town or a more rural small town and living in a rural area is more of living on a farm or five acre plot of land far from a big city?

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