America certainly appears to be in the early stages of a back-to-the-city movement. While the bulk of population and economic growth took place in the suburbs and exurbs over the past several decades, the 2010 Census provided evidence of a subtle shift back toward the urban core, both in center cities and in more urban first- and second-ring suburbs.
This is not just happening in America’s largest, most cosmopolitan metros like New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco, but in the archetypal Rust Belt as well.
Consider Cleveland. A recent report from Case Western's Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development, entitled Not Dead Yet: The Infilling of Cleveland’s Inner Core, provides evidence of a shift in population back to the urban core:
Over the last two decades, the neighborhood's population grew 96%, with residential totals increasing from 4,651 to 9,098. It was the single largest spike of any neighborhood, suburb, or county measured for the two decades under study. Downtown residential occupancy rates now stand over 95% and developers are eagerly looking to meet residential demand.
The above chart, courtesy the Urban Institute, puts this development in perspective. While Cleveland’s outer core neighborhoods (green) and outer suburbs (turquoise) have declined steadily—in fact, the city has lost 17 percent of its population over the past decade, nearly one in five of its people—its inner core neighborhoods (red) have grown steadily and its downtown (darker blue) has boomed.
Even more important for the city’s future, these new denizens are skilled, young, professionals. "They're more entrepreneurial," Richey Piiparinen, the author of the report, observes. "They're mobile. They're more educated than their parents."
A story in The Cleveland Plain Dealer painted a vivid picture. “Twentysomethings are creating a new and potentially powerful housing pattern as they snap up downtown apartments as fast as they become available. ... Neighborhood life is blossoming on blocks once dominated by office workers and commuters, and people are clamoring for dog parks.”
The significance of Cleveland’s population shift cannot be exaggerated. As Jim Russell puts it: “the urban core is a net importer of young adults and a net exporter of old adults. That's the antithesis of a dying city."
Top image: East 4th Street/Facebook