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Who’s Moving Where –City Trends

Monday Mar 23, 2015 - Comments: 0

Over the past several years, a number of sources have suggested that cities are making a comeback – Consider this Time magazine article that was published last spring - But what’s the real story?  Are we witnessing a significant shift toward city life, or is the truth a bit more complicated?      


A report brief from the Center for Community Progress Who’s Moving to Cities, Who Isn’t: Comparing American Cities – attempts to answer these questions by revealing who’s moving where.


The author, Alan Mallach, concludes that many cities are in fact experiencing growth led by younger age groups. However, this growth is patchy, with some cities clearly faring better than others. Moreover, different age groups display distinctive preferences.


Specifically, the research examined population data from 24 cities with populations over 250,000, which were categorized as either “magnet, sunbelt, or legacy cities”:

  • Magnets are strong growth centers like Austin, Boston, and San Francisco.
  • Sunbelts are cities located in sunny, usually southern states, including Atlanta, Miami, and Phoenix.
  • Legacies are formerly industrial hubs that experienced significant population decline following World War II, such as Baltimore, Detroit, and Philadelphia.


The brief considers whether certain age groups are over- or under-represented in different types of cities, and shows how these numbers changed from 2000 to 2012.  The analysis focused on the movement of college-educated adults as a key barometer of a city’s trajectory.


Some of the key results are presented below:

  • The demand for city living is largely driven by college-educated “millennials” (those in the 25-34 age group), although some cities are also seeing an increase of college-educated adults in the 35-44 age group. 
  • With a handful of magnet city exceptions, most cities are struggling to attract or keep those older than 45.
  • Magnet cities in particular are drawing millennials (for example, 15 percent of Washington, D.C.’s population is made up of millennials).
  • Some sunbelt and legacy cities have managed to attract young professionals– for example Baltimore, Philadelphia, St. Louis and Miami—but others are still lagging behind.


The ability of cities to attract young college grads is a positive trend, but the revival has been uneven. The author recommends additional analysis to reveal why some legacy cities have been able to attract growth (and to determine if this growth will be sustainable). Mallach also questions whether cities can be successful if they continue to lose older age groups and he cautions that cities ultimately need to provide opportunity to a range of economically diverse populations – not just college graduates.


To get a more fine grain understanding of the trends, including which magnet, sunbelt, and legacy cities are doing better than others, click here to read the research brief!


What’s happening in your neighborhood?  Are urban populations rising?  Is there a clear reason for population growth in certain cities and neighborhoods?



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