Secondary cities attractive but have a ways to go to catch biggest US cities

New data from Redfin suggests Americans are moving to secondary big cities:

Nashville, Sacramento, Atlanta, Phoenix, Austin and Dallas are among the top-10 cities with the largest influx of new residents, according to new data from the Redfin real estate brokerage…

“People in the coastal markets are just fed up with double-digit price increases, and they’re moving to a commuter town or to the middle of the country,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist for Redfin. “In our most recent ‘hottest markets’ report, Indianapolis tied for third place with Boston among the cities where homes go under contract fastest. People are moving there from Chicago, Los Angeles and the Bay Area because it’s affordable.”…

“It’s the combination of affordable housing and jobs that are causing people to move,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, an Irvine, Calif.-based property database.

“In places like Tampa, Dallas and Las Vegas, there’s a booming economy, with lots of jobs, along with relatively affordable homes. You can cut your housing costs in half if you move to Dallas from Los Angeles and there are jobs there, too.”

The United States has now had a decades-long hierarchy of the largest cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. It would be interesting to see if other regions could challenge those top three in terms of population or status/importance. I have written before about the case that could be made for Washington, D.C. but it also has relatively expensive housing and may be considered a secondary city. In population, Chicago has lost ground compared to Toronto and Houston may overtake it soon. But, does Houston or Toronto have the same status? Most of the locations on the list above of secondary cities are Sunbelt cities with relatively recent population growth and/or importance. Can a place like Phoenix or Nashville or Dallas translate these changes into global city status? It would take a lot of work and changed perceptions.

More evidence of “peak millennial” reached in major American cities

Time suggests 2016 Census data shows a number of American cities have plateaued in terms of millennial residents:

After years of growth, the population of millennials in Boston and Los Angeles has fallen since 2015, with more young people leaving the cities than arriving last year, according to the latest Census data. And millennial growth has slowed in large hubs like Chicago, New York and Washington, D.C.

Dowell Myers, professor of demography at the University of Southern California, first suggested in 2015 that cities would begin to see declines in millennials. With the largest birth group turning 27 this year, Myers says it’s only a matter of time before millennials head to the suburbs for more space.

To see which cities have reached “peak millennial” — a term Myers coined —we analyzed a decade of Census data through 2016. We found that while tech hubs like San Francisco and Seattle are still drawing young people, large East Coast cities, like New York and D.C., are fast approaching peak millennial, with plateauing populations of those born between 1980 and 1996. And then there are cities like Boston, which already appear to have reached their peak. Boston lost roughly 7,000 millennials in 2016, after a record high of 259,000 the previous year…

But they won’t live with roommates forever, Myers says. Eventually, he expects millennials to follow the generations before them and move to the suburbs. “They’re waiting for the recovery to happen,” he says “for new housing and job opportunities open up — so they can move out.”

If this continues, cities will have to think about how to continue to grow their populations. And cities generally do not want any residents; they desire professionals and high-income earners who can contribute to their tax base. But, to some degree they are fighting against demographics as household sizes have shrunk in the United States and birth rates have been steady or declined slightly since 1990. Perhaps their best bet these days is to attract highly-skilled immigrants but this may be an uphill battle as well considering national conversations about immigration, competition between cities, and the significant number of immigrants to the United States that move directly to the suburbs.

Read earlier posts on this topic here and here.

While all other major cities grow, Chicago loses population

According to the latest Census figures, Chicago continues to be an outlier among the largest US cities:

Of the country’s 10 largest cities, the Chicago metropolitan statistical area was the only one to drop in population between 2015 and 2016. The region, defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, includes the city and suburbs and extends into Wisconsin and Indiana.

The Chicago metropolitan area as a whole lost 19,570 residents in 2016, registering the greatest loss of any metropolitan area in the country. It’s the area’s second consecutive year of population loss: In 2015, the region saw its first decline since at least 1990, losing 11,324 people.

By most estimates, the Chicago area’s population will continue to decline in the coming years. Over the past year, the Tribune surveyed dozens of former residents who’ve packed up in recent years and they cited a variety of reasons: high taxes, the state budget stalemate, crime, the unemployment rate and weather. Census data released Thursday suggests the root of the problem is in the city of Chicago and Cook County: The county in 2016 had the largest loss of any county nationwide, losing 21,324 residents…

While Chicago suffered the largest population loss of any metropolitan area, the greatest metropolitan population gains were in Texas and Arizona. The Dallas-Fort Worth- Arlington, Texas, metropolitan area gained more than 143,000 residents in 2016, and the Houston region gained about 125,000. The Phoenix area gained about 94,000 residents and the Atlanta region gained about 91,000 people.

The ascendance of the Sunbelt continues. While this demographic shift has been in the works for decades, at what point can we declare that America is a Sunbelt nation? Granted, there is still significant power in other parts of the country – for example, New York, Chicago, Ohio, Pennsylvania – but the swath of America from Virginia to southern California both covers a lot of residents and has an increasing amount of influence.

Why Americans do or do not move

An article about the most and least mobile cities in the United States includes some discussion of what pushes people to move or to stay put:

“There are two main determining factors whether people move or not,” says Nathalie Williams, a sociology professor from the University of Washington. The good: “The better people feel their lives are going, the less likely they are to move elsewhere.”  The bad: Lousy economies can force people to head for greener pastures.

But of course, economic insecurity can also keep people in the same place.

After the housing bust in 2007, migration slowed down, because uncertainties about the job market had made people nervous about changing jobs and deciding to move on. They were less likely to upgrade to a bigger and nicer home. Plenty even found their homes deep underwater, and were unable to sell.

Now that the recession is over, mobility is finally picking up again, says Kenneth Johnson, a demographer at the University of New Hampshire. And jobs lure people, especially younger ones who haven’t put down deep roots, to new centers of employment.

The short explanation is that economic factors are influential. But, there may be three caveats to this: (1) movement can occur because of either a good or bad economy, (2) it may depend on people’s stage of life, and (3) perhaps there is more to this than economics. Regarding the first point, the article juxtaposes Detroit and Honolulu, the two cities that are least mobile. These are two very different places: one is doing well, the other is not. Later, it is noted that several of the most mobile places are college towns with populations that are more transient (this involves students but also others whose jobs in academia and related industries can lead them from college town to college town). Finally, the description of life in Honolulu cites some economic factors (low property taxes) but also includes a unique cultural setting that some enjoy.

In the end, I’m not sure this article does much to help explain why people move. They move less when economic times are good and bad. Certain places are more mobile because of institutions that encourage transience (colleges) while other places have quality of life traits that discourage moving. Does this mean the most mobile places are somewhere in the middle of these rankings? Or, is it all relative to what people in the region have experienced in recent years?

The flow of young adults to cities has slowed, leading to the idea of “peak millennial”

Have we reached “peak millennial” for America’s cities?

Dowell Myers, a professor of demography and urban planning at the University of Southern California, recently published a paper that noted American cities reached “peak millennial” in 2015. Over the next few years, he predicts, the growth in demand for urban living is likely to stall…

The debate is full of contours and caveats, but it really boils down to this: Are large numbers of millennials really so enamored with city living that they will age and raise families inside the urban core, or will many of them, like earlier generations, eventually head to the suburbs in search of bigger homes and better school districts?

Their choices — and it will be at least a few years before a definitive direction is clear — will have an impact on city budgets and gentrification fights. It could change the streetscape itself as businesses shift. It will affect billions of dollars’ worth of new apartments built on the premise that the flood of young people into cities would continue unabated.

It could also have a big impact on the American landscape more generally. For the past half-century, the trend toward suburbanization has continued with no real opposition. Even in the 1990s and 2000s, when urban areas were starting to turn around, subdivisions continued to expand. Have millennials ended that trend?…

Stay tuned. A few quick thoughts:

  1. One underlying issue here is the idea that cities need to keep growing in population in order to be vibrant or relevant. Can all American cities grow at significant rates? Should they?
  2. As noted in this article, the pull of suburbs is still strong. Any reversal from suburbs to cities is likely to happen over decades, not within a short span or a single generation.
  3. If cities are affected by a small generation after millennials as well as a declining rate of millennials staying in cities, who will they try to attract next? The article also notes that immigration levels have stabilized. Will there be a new plan from mayors and other urban leaders to bring in more residents?

Exodus of black residents from Chicago’s South Side

A long-time resident of Chicago’s South Side discusses the movement of black residents to other locations:

For South Side residents, the writing has been on the wall. Starting as a slow trickle into the suburbs as industrial jobs began drying up in the 1970s, black flight increased in the 2000s, with blacks seeking the suburbs like never before — as well as places like Georgia, Florida or Texas, according to U.S. Census data.

The population shift has folks like myself, left behind on the South Side, feeling like life after the rapture, with relatives, good friends and classmates vanishing and their communities shattering. A recent study found that nearly half of the city’s African-American men between 20 and 24 were unemployed or not attending college…

Every senseless death, every random shooting and every bullet-riddled weekend means another family, another frightened parent must make the decision to stay or go.

Those of us left behind must deal with the aftershocks: lessening political clout, limited public services and the creep of poverty and crime into neighborhoods like South Shore and Auburn-Gresham.

Even as some trumpet the demographic inversion of metropolitan areas other research suggests poor neighborhoods, particularly in Rust Belt cities, can often slowly lose residents. On one side, there is a lot of attention paid to whiter and wealthier residents moving into urban cores and hip neighborhoods while on the other side, little attention is granted to disadvantaged neighborhoods. In some of these neighborhoods, it is remarkable just how much open space there can be as buildings decay and few people clamor to move in (think of Detroit and its urban prairies as an example).

As recession fades, Americans again move South and West

New Census data shows the move of Americans to the Sun Belt is picking up steam:

Census population estimates show that the 16 states and the District of Columbia that comprise the South saw an increase of almost 1.4 million people between 2014 and 2015. The 13 states in the West grew by about 866,000 people.

The gains represent the largest annual growth in population of the decade for both regions and signal that the multi-decade migration to the Sun Belt has resumed after being interrupted by the Great Recession of 2007-09 and the economic sluggishness and anxiety that followed.

In comparison, population growth in the Northeast and the Midwest — including what’s known as the Snow Belt — remained sluggish, growing by about 258,000 residents combined…

A search for jobs and more affordable housing were behind two-thirds of the long-distance moves made between 2014 and 2015, according to a separate census report. Family reasons, such as getting married or rejoining relatives, accounted for another quarter of households moving.

People would generally say that mobility like this is good: Americans feel more confident in moving (they can sell their house, find a new job) and chase new opportunities (we’re told a good market requires workers who are willing to go where the jobs are located). At the same time, the states that are losing population could suffer some negative consequences ranging from a loss of status (both perceived and real – the article mentions the shift in House seats) to declining tax bases.

Even as this shift to the Sun Belt continues, it would be interesting to take a long-term perspective: how has this changed the United States as a whole? While Los Angeles has certainly risen to the top (and eclipsed Chicago as the Second City), the South is still often treated as distinct rather than the new normal.

Record numbers of displaced people and refugees

One writer suggests the current refugee and displaced persons crisis is truly epic:

There are more displaced people and refugees now than at any other time in recorded history — 60 million in all — and they are on the march in numbers not seen since World War II. They are coming not just from Syria, but from an array of countries and regions, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Gaza, even Haiti, as well as any of a dozen or so nations in sub-Saharan and North Africa. They are unofficial ambassadors of failed states, unending wars, intractable conflicts.

And the numbers may continue to be significant for a while:

While the flow of migrants to Europe this year already represents the biggest influx from outside the Continent in modern history, many experts warn that the mass movement may continue and even increase — possibly for years to come. “We are talking about millions of potential refugees trying to reach Europe, not thousands,” Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, said in a recent Twitter posting…

“I don’t think this wave can stop,” said Sonja Licht of the International Center for Democratic Transition. “It can maybe from time to time be somewhat less intensive, we simply have to prepare. The global north must be prepared that the global south is on the move, the entire global south. This is not just a problem for Europe but for the whole world.”

Those policy makers who seem pretty unprepared for this – even though there have been hints of migration for a while now – better get moving on a response, both for the refugees and their electorates.

Sociologist proposed moving Hong Kong’s population to Northern Ireland

Recently declassified documents show conversations about one sociologist’s plans to move residents out of Hong Kong:

Newly-declassified documents released at the National Archives in Kew, west London reveal how senior civil servants reacted enthusiastically to proposals in 1983 from a University of Reading academic that a chunk of Ulster – between Coleraine and Londonderry – be turned into a new home for Hong Kong’s 5.5m citizens.

The proponents of the plan, which one Northern Ireland office official declared should be “taken seriously”, suggested the mass transportation of Cantonese speakers would have the dual advantage of boosting the Ulster economy while solving Britain’s dilemma over what to do with the millions of Hong Kong residents concerned they would have no future under Chinese rule…

When details of the scheme, floated by sociology professor Christie Davies, appeared in a Belfast newspaper in October 1983, they caught the eye of George Fergusson, an official in the Northern Ireland office…

The academic, who has subsequently specialised in studying the nature of comedy, said: “I am glad my sensible idea was taken seriously. It was humorous but deliberately ambiguous. My test of a good humorous satire is if a significant minority take it seriously.”

Perhaps this is more revealing of those who were excited about this plan – we can simply move millions of people to solve two political issues at once! – than of the one who made the proposal. Deliberately relocating millions of people halfway around the world sounds like it could lead to all sorts of unintended consequences. How in the world would something like this even be carried off?

Another issue is whether a city could be swiftly moved and replicated elsewhere. Diasporas are not unheard of but the settlements in the new locations can’t completely mirror the original location or scene. Modern Hong Kong was formed out of a unique social and political context as was Northern Ireland. Building a Northern Ireland version of Hong Kong (or a Canadian Atlantic version or a West African version) could turn out to be very interesting…

Detailed map of population changes in Europe, 2001-2011

A new map shows the population trends at work in Europe between 2001 and 2011:

Look at the Eastern section of the map and you’ll see that many cities, including Prague, Bucharest, and the Polish cities of Pozna? and Wroc?aw, are ringed with a deep red circle that shows a particularly high rise in average annual population of 2 percent or more. As this paper from Krakow’s Jagiellonian University’s Institute of Geography notes, Eastern cities began to spread out in the new millennium because it was their first chance to do so in decades…

We already know from other available data that Europe is experiencing a migration to the northwest, but the BBSR map adds complexity to this picture and reveals some interesting micro-trends. The dark blue coloring of the map’s Eastern section shows that the lean years for Eastern states are by no means over. Residents have continued to leave Albania, Bulgaria and Latvia in particular in search of jobs, while even relatively wealthy eastern Germany has been hollowed out almost everywhere except the Berlin region.

Population growth in the Northwest, meanwhile, is far from even. While large sections of Northern Scandinavia’s inland are losing people, there’s still modest growth on the Arctic coasts. And while the Scottish Highlands contain some the least peopled lands in all of Europe, Scotland’s Northeast shows remarkable population gains, a likely result of the North Sea oil industry concentrated in Aberdeen…

Spain’s trends look a little different from those of Europe as a whole. It’s actually in the country’s Northwest where the population has dropped most sharply, notably in the provinces of Galicia and León, which have long been known to produce many of Spain’s migrants.

But other previously impoverished regions, such as Southwestern Murcia, have grown, a trend continuing along the Mediterranean coast where population levels have risen sharply.

All of this may help explain reactions to migrants – population pressure is high in some places, particularly wealthier regions, while population loss is occurring in more economically depressed areas. It is also a helpful reminder of how relatively free people are to move between places. I don’t know how exactly this lines up with historic migration rates – particularly before the rise of nation-states which presumably allowed more of an ability to control population flows – but the industrialized world (and much of the rest of the world as well) is quite a mobile one.