Kotkin: The rise of family-friendly cities

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The always provocative Joel Kotkin has an interesting piece in today’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt:

For much of the past decade, business recruiters, cities and urban developers have focused on the “young and restless,” the “creative class,” and the so-called “yuspie” — the young urban single professional. Cities, they’ve said, should capture this so-called “dream demographic” if they wish to inhabit the top tiers of the economic food chain and enjoy the fastest and most sustained growth.

This focus — epitomized by Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm’s risible “Cool Cities” initiative — is less successful than advertised. Cincinnati, Baltimore, Cleveland, Newark, Detroit and Memphis have danced to the tune of the hip and the cool, yet largely remain wallflowers in terms of economic and demographic growth. Instead, an analysis of migration data by my colleagues at the Praxis Strategy Group shows that the strongest job growth has consistently taken place in those regions — such as Houston, Dallas, Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham — with the largest net in-migration of young, educated families ranging from their mid-20s to mid-40s.

Urban centers that have been traditional favorites for young singles, such as Chicago, Boston, New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco, have experienced below-average job and population growth since 2000. San Francisco and Chicago lost population during that period; even immigrant-rich New York City and Los Angeles County have shown barely negligible population growth in the last two years, largely due to a major out-migration of middle class families.

Married people with children tend to be both successful and motivated, precisely the people who make economies go. They are twice as likely to be in the top 20% of income earners, according to the Census, and their incomes have been rising considerably faster than the national average.

Indeed, 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.

As Houston-area leaders continue to pursue the latest, greatest amenities (like a park and shopping center in a part of town ceded to vagrants, or trolley-like “trains” that run down busy streets) that will allegedly make the city seem world-class to the young and hip, it’s probably worth keeping in mind Kotkin’s notion that Houston might just be doing some things right already (and what those things are).


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Kevin Whited
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