Friday, November 30

Courting Families to Cities

Details magazine, trend-setters extraordinaire for young professionals, wrote an interesting story a little while ago, "Is it time to move to the Suburbs?"

"Five years ago Marusin, then in his late twenties, did what a surprising number of otherwise intelligent, mall-averse Americans are starting to do. He relocated to the land of the cul de sac, the garden gnome, and the 4,500-square-foot starter house. “I didn’t fit the profile of the lawn-obsessed, Escalade-driving suburbanite,” says Marusin, a website developer who drives a Prius and now lives in cushy Naperville, Illinois, with his wife, Liz, an interior designer. “But staying in the city—it was beginning to kill us.”

Details even provides a handy guide of the hippest suburbs to live in.

This right here is why the "creative class strategy" of urban development, targeting hipsters with cultural amenities they demand, lacks staying power: 1) coolness is elusive and transient, and 2) cool young people usually have kids eventually and cease being cool. You may need kindling to start a fire, but no fire would last without some logs. Urban areas must attract families to maintain long-term economic growth.

Joel Kotkin made this argument in the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday,

"If you talk with recruiters and developers in the nation's fastest growing regions, you find that the critical ability to lure skilled workers, long term, lies not with bright lights and nightclubs, but with ample economic opportunities, affordable housing and family friendly communities not too distant from work. "People who come here tend to be people who have long commutes elsewhere, and who have young children," notes Pat Riley, president of Alan Tate company, a large residential brokerage in Charlotte, N.C. "They want to be somewhere where they don't miss their kids growing up because there's no time."

There is a basic truth about the geography of young, educated people. They may first migrate to cities like New York, Los Angeles, Boston or San Francisco. But they tend to flee when they enter their child-rearing years. Family-friendly metropolitan regions have seen the biggest net gains of professionals, largely because they not only attract workers, but they also retain them through their 30s and 40s."

Kotkin makes another brief point that is worth highlighting. Immigrant groups have been known to cluster around familial networks. In order to attract this vital demographic, cities need to ensure that the diverse needs of extended multi-generational families are served. Grandma Sanchez isn't much concerned about how trendy the downtown club scene is.

But I'd have to digress sharply from Kotkin when it comes to how to deal with this reality. He's pretty fatalistic when it comes to the preferences families have for low-density suburbs, and thus he suggests planners focus on making suburbs more livable and energy-efficient. Sustainable new-urban development is a pipe dream for him. But is it? How can dense urban areas court families?


Jonathan said...

I wonder what the possibilities of incentivizing new multi-family units such as exist in abundance in boston, new york, and chicago would be for increasing urban density and checking sprawl in other cities? are multi-family arrangements even possible given the increasingly individualistic mindset of most americans?

Carol Minjares said...

4,500-square-foot starter house

You've got to be kidding! That's a McMansion!