Monday, July 03, 2017

In a recent article on Fortune, David Z. Morris summarizes a couple of recent studies explaining "Why Millennials Are About to Leave Cities in Droves."

The argument basically goes that millennials don't actually like cities, that they have just been trapped in them by the Great Recession, and that now that jobs are back to normal they're going to suddenly abandon them which "will start returning urban/suburban living patterns to their historical norms."

This assumes a number of things:

(1) That the suburban living pattern has a historical precedent (in the form discussed here it is very much a post World War II phenomenon: the auto-dependent suburb trend is the historical anomaly, not the trend of living in cities).

(2) That millennials started out in cities in the first place (due to the post-World-War-II-auto-dependent-suburb-phenomenon most millennials started out in hard-to-escape suburbs and actually chose to move into cities in a pattern different than the previous generation or two of suburb dwellers).

(3) That, assuming this idea that poor young professionals move to cities for jobs then move on once they get them is the norm, we're running out of people to put through this paradigm (while there are certainly ebbs and flows in population, "millennial"--depending on who's defining it--refers to born between about 1980 and about 2000. While 1990 may be the peak, people continued being born in significant numbers throughout the '90s, and have continued being born in significant numbers up to the present. If the theory is that young people live in cities for a little while and then move out, we're still producing young people who will conform to the theory...).

(4) That millennials presence in cities or suburbs is an indicator of their preference rather than a consequence of laws, codes and external pressures forcing them where government idealists want them (this is a big case to make, but the historical reality is that we've spent almost a century mandating auto-dependent development due to the lobbying of powerful elites. A good starting source for this is Charles Montgomery's Happy City).

A last point that I think is worth noting is that the author may be talking about big cities, while my critique pertains to cities in general. If you don't make a living from agriculture it is far more efficient--and, for most people, far more pleasant--to live in a place where sitting in a car for an hour or two a day isn't mandated. To the extent that cities try to be more like suburbs they will fail to retain people who want "city life"; the difficulty is that, without efficient cities to provide the tax-base for inefficient suburbs, suburbs will become increasingly economically unsustainable.