Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Brookings Instuitute Study: Urban Areas Growing, Suburbia Declines

A new landmark study by the Brookings institute challenges many long held beliefs regarding Cities and Suburbia. The study which covers demographic trends between 2000 and 2008 of the top 100 metropolitan areas shows what many historic Preservationists (myself included) have been saying for several years, that Urban neighborhoods in cities are experiencing a rebirth and gaining population while Suburbia is losing ground. You can read the complete report here:

Some of the surprising findings for city planners are:
Reverse White Flight: America's suburbs are now more likely to be home to minorities, the poor and a rapidly growing older population as many younger, educated whites move to cities for jobs and shorter commutes. This is being refereed to as "bright flight" younger more affluent 20-30 somethings are abandoning their suburban roots and flocking to Urban neighborhoods attracted by to the ambiance and lack of commute costs and time.

An aging Suburban population will put strain on existing Health care in suburban locations.In 2008, 71 percent of pre-seniors lived in suburbs, and their numbers (as well as those of seniors) grew faster in suburbs than in cities during the 2000s. This reflects boomers’ status as America’s “first suburban generation,” and signals their likelihood to remain in these communities as they grow older.
All 100 of the largest metro areas experienced an increase in the share of their young adults enrolled in higher education between 2000 and 2008. Some of the largest increases occurred in older industrial metro areas of the Northeast and Midwest, suggesting that young people in these struggling economies increasingly recognize the need for a post-secondary degree to succeed in the labor market.
Calling 2010 the "decade of reckoning," the report urges Urban Planners and government officials to abandon outdated notions of America's cities and suburbs and stressed the need to quickly address the coming problems caused by the dramatic shifts in population.

The facts are it is bad public policy to be demolishing Urban structures at a time when the demographic shift indicates those housing opportunities will be needed. Instead of bulldozing we need to be stabilizing and mothballing those structures so they will be available to those moving to the cities. If we accept that this demographic shift is happening we can better plan and be ahead of other cities that may be slow to accept that their preconceived notions about how urban planning works have changed. One need only look at OTR, Pendleton Mt Adams to see the shift in demographic. The restorations going on in Price Hill, Fairmount, and West End all point to the fact that Younger people without the preconceived notions about Urban neighborhood are beginning to repopulate at the time the city is reducing the availability of housing stock. Clearly a shift in city policy is now called for.
Some other surprising changes in cities vs suburbs:

Suburbia is now home to the largest poor population in the country. They are home to the vast majority of baby boomers age 55 to 64, a fast-growing group that will strain social services after the first wave of boomers turns 65 next year. In fact the suburban poor grew by a whopping 25 percent between 1998 and 2008 that is five times the growth rate in Urban areas.

For the first time, a majority of all racial and ethnic groups in large metro areas live outside the city. Suburban Asians and Hispanics already had topped 50 percent in 2000, and blacks joined them by 2008, rising from 43 percent in those eight years.
"A new image of urban America is in the making," said William H. Frey, a demographer at Brookings who co-wrote the report.
So what does this mean for the Historic preservation community you may ask? Well , in my opinion, it means we have work to do. We must begin to lobby for greater preservation, for stabilization of urban structures. We need to devote more educational resources so that those coming to the city respect the Historic fabric of it. Right now there is serious demand for condos and smaller homes. as the 20-30 demographic expand and begin raising families there will be greater demand for larger homes and more single family housing. That will put greater demand on areas like the West End, Price Hill and Fairmount which have large quantities of single family detached homes in close proximity to downtown. We also need to look at the obvious shift in shopping patterns that will come and we need to embark on long range planning to determine the mix of businesses that will be required as more people move downtown. School planning and public transportation needs and how our Urban parks are used will all come into play over the next decade.
Preservationists will need to be the cheerleaders of this as city officials will be slow to 'see the light' and be able to address these demographic changes. In short, we have our work cut out for us!

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