NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 19, 2006

Recent census data reveals a renewed migration out of our urban centers contrary to the notion, popularized over a decade, that cities are enjoying a historic rebound, says Joel Kotkin, an Irvine Senior Fellow with the New America Foundation.

The newest figures are troubling on two accounts: not only are the perennial losers -- Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit -- continuing to empty out, but some of the most attractive cities, like Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago, have lost population since 2000, says Kotkin.

What is causing this population shift, asks Kotkin?

  • Skyrocketing housing prices in urban areas caused by political constraints on supply are reducing the influx of migrants cities require.
  • The housing bubble, which has created a false notion of an "urban renaissance" driven by, among other things, empty-nesters returning to the city.
  • Then there's the economy; in virtually every region of the United States, economic growth has been far more robust in the suburbs than in the cities.
  • The notion that upper income residents are to blame for middle-class flight -- by bidding up housing prices -- can only be applied to a handful of cities.

Some urban boosters, like Richard Florida, claims that out-migration stems from a surge of affluent, well-educated small households pushing out middle-class families, says Kotkin. But the evidence should suggest that instead of luring the "hip and cool" with high-end amenities, cities need instead to address issues that concern businesses as well as working- and middle-class families to maintain a job base and the hope for upward mobility, says Kotkin.

Source: Joel Kotkin, "The Ersatz Urban Renaissance," Wall Street Journal, May 15, 2006.

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