Chicago good at attracting the creative class, not good at keeping them

Recent data suggests Chicago attracts a good number of the creative class – young, college graduates – but they don’t stay in the city long-term:

And still the 20-somethings swarmed to the city. If you drew a circle with a 2-mile radius around Chicago’s City Hall, as the Census Bureau did, you’d find the population in that ring had grown by 48,288 residents — 36 percent — between 2000 and 2010, even as the overall population fell. Census researchers measured the growth within similar rings in other metro areas. Chicago outpaced them all…

Chicago demographer Rob Paral points out that the 25- to 34-year-olds counted from 2007 to 2011 are even better educated than those in 2000. The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey found 46 percent of the residents in that age bracket had a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with 36 percent in 2000. Among America’s top 10 cities, Chicago recorded the highest percentage of young college grads and the largest increase since 2000…

Then what? This is a demographic with choices. If the city looks less appealing once the babies come along, many of them will leave. Big-city crime is sometimes the explanation, but in truth most of these young adults live in neighborhoods largely insulated from the violence of the South and West sides.

More often, the deal breaker is the public schools. Staying in Chicago can mean spending thousands on private tuition, or working the system to get the kids into one of the city’s selective-enrollment high schools. Suddenly it’s easy to see the attraction of smaller suburban districts, their tax collections enriched by higher property values…

How can the city hold on to those families? One way, it turns out, is to suffer a massive recession. Census data show that from July 2010 to July 2012, Chicago’s population inched up again — by about 19,000 residents — as out-migration slowed to a trickle. Meanwhile, two decades of double-digit exurban growth lurched to a near standstill.

Since having a recession isn’t a good long-term growth strategy, the city will have to try something else. Most American big cities would love to have more young college-educated adults, particularly those involved in industries like the technology sector or those willing to move into and improve less well-off neighborhoods. Yet, this article highlights a second issue: how exactly do all these cities then retain these adults as they age? One irony not noted in this article is that many American urban neighborhoods offer the ability to own a home, even a single-family home with a yard. But, getting over this idea that cities are not good for children is more difficult. Whether it is an issue of schools (and Chicago has some of the highest-performing schools in Illinois) or safety and crime or a perceived need to interact with kids like them, these will be tough to overcome. Additionally, fighting these perceptions might include creating and maintaining kid-friendly pockets in the city, but this leads to other issues such as very different experiences of urban residents (for example, compare the life chances of kids from Lincoln Park in Chicago versus those from Englewood) and this is still different than fleeing to an exclusive suburban community where the wealthier and more-educated don’t have to interact with anyone other than them.

I don’t remember Richard Florida, the main proponent of the creative class, talking much about this issue…

0 thoughts on “Chicago good at attracting the creative class, not good at keeping them

  1. Pingback: Should all suburban teeangers want to experience the big city? | Legally Sociable

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