Explaining Americans’ decline in geographic mobility

Derek Thompson highlights a decline in movement and summarizes what might be behind it:

Between the 1970s and 2010, the rate of Americans moving between states fell by more than half—from 3.5 percent per year to 1.4 percent. “It’s a puzzle and it’s the one I wish politicians and policy makers were more concerned about,” Betsey Stevenson, a former member of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, told The New York Times this week. Fewer Americans moving toward the best jobs and starting fewer companies could lead a less productive economy. On Thursday, the Financial Times reported that productivity “is set to fall in the U.S. for the first time in more than three decades.”…

Every dimension of declining American dynamism is connected. The slowdown in most areas’ business development comes from a shifting tide in American migration. For 100 years, population flowed from poor areas to rich areas. Now the trend has reversed. Land-use policies prevent more middle-class families from living in productive areas, because housing becomes too expensive. Meanwhile, the rich can afford to cluster in a handful of metros where entrepreneurship is a norm, while business dynamism falls in the rest of the country. There used to be too much land to settle. Now there’s not enough land to share.

Two quick related thoughts:

  1. You regularly see people make the argument that people should just pick up and move to where there are more opportunities, meaning jobs and a cheaper cost of living (generally referring to housing and maybe taxes). There is even a single case in Evicted where a person moves from a poor Milwaukee neighborhood to a southern city and seems to be doing well. However, moving is not necessarily easy (see #2).
  2. Why are economists the only ones summarized here? Are sociologists not paying much attention to this? On one hand, I can see how economics would drive decisions about moving. Yet, it is not the only factor. People have social connections wherever they live and it can be difficult to form new social networks. While Americans always have prized mobility, don’t they also celebrate finding your roots and being a presence in your community? (Granted, Americans may be doing neither: moving less and being less engaged in civic life.) This reminds me of some public housing residents who didn’t want to leave pretty bad conditions in high-rise buildings. Or, what about explanations like those in The Big Sort or The Rise of the Creative Class where people choose to live near people like themselves.

Identifying the pockets of carless Chicagoans

With more Americans living alone and significant transportation costs for middle-class Americans, where do the carless Chicagoans tend to cluster?

So where do those carless Chicagoans live, and how many of them are there? A lot, it turns out. If you break down Chicago by cars and household size using 2012 census numbers, these are the only groups of more than 100,000:

One person, one vehicle 193,174
One person, no vehicle 168,004
Two people, one vehicle 135,143

Along the northern lakefront, around half the households don’t have a car; there are pockets in the Near North Side and Lake View over 60 percent. In one Edgewater tract, it’s over 70 percent. It’s not the highest percentage, though—there are two tracts in one of the poorest stretches of the South Side, between U.S. Cellular Field and 47th Street along the Dan Ryan, above 80 percent.

As you move north and west and the city gets less dense, the percentage of carless households drops off. There’s an exception, though: one tract in Logan Square, adjacent to the California Blue Line stop, where 41 percent of households don’t own a car. The “twin towers” transit-oriented development that’s going up at 2293 N. Milwaukee, and causing controversy as it goes, will live right next to that tract.

If I had to guess, this is related to income, age, more expensive parking options (for example, having to pay for a garage spot as opposed to plenty of street parking), and housing types (single-family homes which are more attractive to families versus apartments, condos, etc.). How well would these clusters line up with where the Creative Class lives?

The headline suggests that this is has led developers to respond with what they are proposing and building. Yet, the article doesn’t say much regarding these changes. For example, how about more shared streets like have been proposed for a few spots in Chicago? How about more bike lanes in these areas? How about more high-rise housing? If these population clusters hold and developers are indeed responding, these could be very unique places in a few decades.

Picking apart the top cities for singles rankings

Rankings of the top cities for singles may not be that valid:

“It doesn’t make much difference” where millennials live in terms of their marriage prospects, Andrew Cherlin, director of Johns Hopkins’ sociology department, wrote in an email. He said most major cities now have about the same rate of millennial inhabitants…

And indeed, most of the top cities for this category were near military installations. No. 2 on Wang’s list was San Luis Obispo, which is less than an hour from Vandenberg Air Force base, the third-largest air force base in the country. No. 4, in Hanford, Calif., has a large Navy presence…

So what does predict whether you’ll get married? The reigning champ of marriage indicators is Mormonism, even for millennials. Utah towns occupy the top three slots among 18-34 year-old marriage rates (nearly 2/3rds of millennials are already spoken for in western Utah County, Utah). And the U.S.’s top-three Mormon states, Utah Wyoming and Idaho, occupy the top three slots for states.

Surprise, surprise; rankings found on the Internet may not be that great. Sometimes this has to do with methodology: what is included in the rankings and how are the different dimensions rated? This is discussed here: do you want to look at millennial composition (where Washington D.C. leads the pack) or millennial marriage rate (Washington D.C. doesn’t do as well)? One lesson might be to have more specific rankings – do you really mean it is best for singles if your data is based on the marriage rate?

Additionally, two other issues arise. One, what if the cities aren’t that different from each other? Rankings are intended to differentiate between options but mathematical differences do not necessarily equal substantive significances. Second, why are the rankings in this order? Here, what related factors – such as the proximity of military installations – might be relevant? This may be hard to pick up at times because not all the cities may be affected by the same phenomena. Thus, the researcher has to do some extra digging to try to explain the rankings rather than just simplistically report them.

Even with the argument from Richard Florida about the creative class seeking out cities with enticing culture and entertainment, how many people move where they do because of such rankings?

The New York Times is not so good at identifying gentrifying neighborhoods

A new study compares what neighborhoods were pegged as gentrifying by the New York Times and academics based on census data. There was a discrepancy:

The study, by sociologist Michael Barton of Louisiana State University, examines the differences between neighborhoods that the Times has identified as “gentrified” or “gentrifying” in the past three decades, and those identified by Census data and major academic studies. He finds a wide – and concerning – gap between the neighborhoods that social scientists call “gentrified” and those to which the Times affixes that label

To get at this, Barton’s study used a LexisNexis database search to discover which New York City neighborhoods the Times identified as “gentrified” between 1980 and 2009. He then compared these neighborhoods to those identified as “gentrified” according to measures used in two classic quantitative studies. The first study, published in 2003 by Raphael Bostic and Richard Martin, identified gentrified neighborhoods based on median incomes. Their method sees gentrified neighborhoods as those that saw their median incomes grow from less than 50 percent of the metro median to more than 50 percent of it. The second strategy, based on a 2005 study by Lance Freeman, identifies gentrifying neighborhoods based on a broader set of changes in income, education and housing. For Freeman, gentrified neighborhoods are those that started with median income levels below those for the city as a whole but then where educational levels and housing prices rose to be greater than the city’s. Barton’s study focuses on gentrification in New York City neighborhoods and is based on data for the 188 neighborhood areas identified by the Department of City Planning.

The bottom line: Barton found considerable differences between the neighborhoods the Times identified as gentrified and those identified by the quantitative studies…

What jumps out here are the large swathes of the city in which significant neighborhood change goes ignored by the Times. The Grey Lady was much more likely to peg gentrification in “hip” neighborhoods in Manhattan and adjacent parts of Brooklyn (like Williamsburg) than in the Bronx and Queens, particularly in the 1990s and 2000s. Generally speaking, the gentrifying neighborhoods discussed in the Times lined up more neatly with the more restrictive method used by Bostic and Martin than it did with Freeman.  Still, as Barton writes, “the association of both census-based strategies with the New York Times were moderate at best.”

I was recently looking at some classic “growth machine” literature (Urban Fortunes by Logan and Molotch) and here is an explanation they might suggest: newspapers generally are interested in promoting urban growth. This is because they are interested in building their subscriber base which puts more eyeballs on advertisements which means they can charge more. So, if “hip” neighborhoods are identified by the Times and more people in these young, educated places buy the newspaper that claims they are participating in something hip, the Times comes out ahead. Yet, chasing these younger demographics and the latest monied scene may not match up with accurate reporting on neighborhood change.

This finding may also highlight some significant differences in gentrification patterns. A quick influx of young, creative class whites may mark one neighborhood but income growth (and other positive factors) may be related to a slower process and/or featuring non-whites, non creative class types in other neighborhoods. It is not as if all neighborhoods in major cities with less-than-average incomes have an equal probability of gentrifying as there are numerous factors at work.

 

Selling smaller yet posh apartments plus an urban lifestyle to younger renters in Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay real estate market may have picked up again but it includes some new options: stylish, small, urban apartments for millennials.

So last month, the 28-year-old dietitian moved into a stylish flat in downtown’s newest apartment tower, Modera Prime 235. The trade-off? It cost $1,330, double her last rent, for a one-bedroom matchbox spanning 700 square feet.

“I knew I wasn’t going to be in a McMansion. . . . but it’s definitely enough space for me,” she said. “That price was a lot, like, ‘Oh my goodness, I’m going to have to watch my budget.’ But I’ve enjoyed every penny I’ve paid for it so far.”

Developers are racing to build more than 8,000 new apartments across Tampa Bay, sparking one of the biggest building surges since the housing bust. But to win big rents from millennials, the biggest generation in American history, they’re building in a way that looks nothing like the suburban booms of years past.

The emerging apartment complexes are more closely connected to city centers and packed with metropolitan perks, but they’re also surprisingly pricey and getting smaller. While the median new American home swelled last year to a record-breaking 2,384 square feet, Census data show, the nation’s median new rentals have narrowed to 1,043 square feet, the smallest since 2002.

“The younger generation, under 35, they don’t want to own homes. They don’t want a yard. … They watched what happened (during the recession), watched their parents lose their houses,” said John Stone, a managing director of multifamily housing for Colliers International, a real estate brokerage. “They have a different taste, a different value system. . . . These kids are more than happy to pay $1,200 in rent to walk out their door and immediately go to their favorite bar, their favorite restaurant.”

This has been a trend predicted for a while now by a number of people ranging from Richard Florida to James Howard Kunstler. Because of a variety of pressures from the increase in gas prices, the limited possibilities and decentralization of suburban sprawl, a changed job market, and new technologies, younger Americans may just want desire more exciting urban neighborhoods (though these don’t necessarily have to be in the city center or even in large cities) and smaller homes and private spaces. This is happening many metro areas throughout the United States but it is unclear how big the phenomenon might grow or how much other groups of Americans want to join millennials/the Creative Class.

Yet, as the article notes, this is all tending to lead to a segmented housing market with large suburban McMansions (or something like them), trendy yet small urban apartments for those who can afford them, and the lower end of the housing market that is still struggling.

Suburbs looking for ways to lure young adults back from cities

If young adults are going to the big city and staying in increasing numbers, how can suburbs get them back?

Demographers and politicians are scratching their heads over the change and have come up with conflicting theories. And some suburban towns are trying to make themselves more alluring to young residents, building apartment complexes, concert venues, bicycle lanes and more exotic restaurants…

Some suburbs are working diligently to find ways to hold onto their young. In the past decade, Westbury, N.Y., has built a total of 850 apartments — condos, co-ops and rentals — near the train station, a hefty amount for a village of 15,000 people. Late last year it unveiled a new concert venue, the Space at Westbury, that books performers like Steve Earle, Tracy Morgan and Patti Smith.

Long Beach, N.Y., with a year-round population of 33,000, has also been refreshing its downtown near the train station over the last couple of decades. The city has provided incentives to spruce up signage and facades, remodeled pavements and crosswalks, and provided more parking. A smorgasbord of ethnic restaurants flowered on Park Avenue, the main street…

Thomas R. Suozzi, in his unsuccessful campaign to reclaim his former position as Nassau County executive last year, held up Long Beach, Westbury and Rockville Centre as examples of municipalities that had succeeded in drawing young people with apartments, job-rich office buildings, restaurants and attractions, like Long Beach’s refurbished boardwalk. Unless downtowns become livelier, he said, the island’s “long-term sustainability” will be hurt because new businesses will not locate in places where they cannot attract young professionals.

This story should make New Urbanists happy. Because cities are attracting young adults with cultural amenities and jobs, suburbs have to respond with their own amenities. Simply existing as a bedroom community won’t cut it for attracting younger residents who want competitive housing prices as well as things to do. By appealing to these residents, suburbs can also win in two ways. First, their efforts to bring in more restaurants, stores, and cultural opportunities can help diversify their tax base. New commercial establishments and festivals help bring in visitors as well as residents who spend money. Second, these moves may also help make their downtowns and neighborhoods denser. This limits residents’ reliance on cars and makes streets more pedestrian friendly.

Of course, many of these suburbs will find it difficult to compete with (1) the big city and (2) other suburbs. Popular tactics in recent years across suburbs include transit oriented development involving condos and amenities near railroads or other mass transit and trying to build a more vibrant downtown around restaurants and small but unique shops.

Naperville #9 best city for new college graduates

Livability.com just named Naperville as the #9 city for college graduates. Here is the criteria they used:

To determine the best cities for recent college graduates, we analyzed factors such as the number of 25- to 34-year-olds living in each city, the availability of rental properties, unemployment rates, educational attainment levels, use of public transportation and the types of jobs these places offer. We also sought out cities that cater to a younger demographic by offering lots of recreational activities, hot nightlife and a hip vibe. What we found were places where new college graduates are likely to find jobs they’d actually want, homes they can afford and a social scene that allows them to more easily make new friends, fit in and engage with the community.

In assessing the best cities for new college grads, we took into account the top-hiring industries, which, according to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, are: educational services; professional, scientific and technical services; health care and social assistance; and government.

While it doesn’t say how these different factors are weighted, it seems to be a mix of job and quality of life opportunities. The list isn’t just about unemployment; it also includes cultural elements the “creative class” looks for in an exciting place to live.

And here is what they said about Naperville:

Just 30 miles west of Chicago and located along the DuPage River, Naperville, Ill., provides recent college grads with a blend of small-town charm and big-city amenities. It’s an ideal setting for young professionals who feel more comfortable in a suburban environment but want quick access to the offerings of a major metropolis.

An low unemployment rate of 5.5 percent among 25- to 34-year-olds, a high percentage of non-service industry jobs and excellent public transportation make Naperville an attractive area to start a job search. The city’s employment base includes technology firms, energy companies, retailers and factories. Citizens here are well-educated; more than 66 percent of 25- to 34-year-olds in Naperville hold bachelor’s degrees or higher. Finding an affordable place to rent won’t be difficult as nearly a quarter of residential properties in the city are rentals, many of which cost less than 30 percent of an average resident’s annual income.

The city’s picturesque Riverwalk and community parks see lots of activity from residents who exercise, play sports or just relax. Naperville’s quaint downtown includes the Theater District, which is home to the widely attended North Central College theater program. Residents can choose from more than 260 restaurants, including the Spanish-themed Meson Sabika and the award-winning Café Buonaro’s Italian restaurant.

This summary hits the high points that most profiles of Naperville:

1. Big city (over 140,000) but small-town feel. Perhaps it is the quaint but bustling downtown that sums this up well: it isn’t too big to be overwhelming but it does offer lots of shopping and dining options.

2. Thriving jobs center. Though Naperville has a large population, it is not just a bedroom community. There are numerous major companies with offices in town and this attracts an educated workforce.

3. The Riverwalk is a scenic and well-designed outside feature. Few communities have such pedestrian-friendly options so close to a vibrant downtown.