Upper Left Coast

Thoughts on politics, faith, sports and other random topics from a red state sympathizer in indigo-blue Portland, Oregon.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Economic growth via young singles? Not.

Cities such as Portland have put their stock in creating a vibrant environment that is attractive to young -- often-single, usually childless -- professionals and artists. Their belief is that these people will spark sustained economic growth and vibrancy in downtowns that have otherwise declined.

Not so fast, says Joel Kotkin, a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University in Orange, Calif. In this morning's Wall Street Journal, Kotkin says this effort is "less successful than advertised," and that urban centers traditionally favored by these young singles have experienced below-average job and population growth because of the flight of families to the suburbs:
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...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.
Portland officials might argue that its city isn't in that list, and that its numbers don't play along with Kotkin's argument, but Kotkin responds (emphasis mine):
Advocates of the brew-latté-and-they-will-come approach often point to greater Portland, Ore., which has experienced consistent net gains of educated workers, including families. Yet most of that migration--as well as at least three quarters of the region's population and job growth--has been not to the increasingly childless city, but to the suburban periphery. This pattern holds true in virtually every major urban region.
Kotkin quotes Paul Levy, the president of the Center City district association in Philadelphia, who notes that just 14 percent of Center City residents have children, and half of Center City's residents move out when they hit their mid-30s. Levy continues:
If you want to sustain the revival you have to deal with the fact that people with six year olds keep moving to the suburbs. Empty nesters and singles are not enough....Our agenda has to change. We have to look at the parks, the playgrounds and the schools.
Alas, Portland is too busy building trams and condos amid the concrete jungle -- and too busy closing formerly vibrant school communities -- to worry about providing a place for people with a 6-year-old.


  • At 11/27/2007 9:05 PM, Blogger Dave Gardner said…

    You only need job growth if your population is growing. Of course, growing population, job growth and economic growth are the holy grail of 20th century economic thinking. Unfortunately not sustainable. If the only way a city can be a happy, healthy place to live is for it to keep growing, then our future is going to be pretty disappointing!

    My suggestion would be to seek economic and population stability. Do your part and perhaps the world will follow!

    Dave Gardner
    Hooked on Growth: Our Misguided Quest for Prosperity

  • At 11/28/2007 5:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Who cares if it's to the suburban periphery? The notion that a 4-person family with one or two middle class incomes will be able to compete with 3-4 young professionals with incomes of $30-40K for a single family house is silly. Moreover, every high income couple (young or old) that buys a 4-bedroom house is one more house that is not available to a middle income family. It's a fact of the housing market: Any desirable place will eventually price out middle income families. As a republican, you should understand that market principle.

    The quote from Levy is probably selective and twisted by Kotkin. He was one of my advisor's in grad school and has high admiration for Portland's model. In fact, part of our studio work involved a trip to observe Portland as a case study.

  • At 11/29/2007 11:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    The "brew-latté-and-they-will-come" statement shows just how much they don't understand Portland.

  • At 12/04/2007 8:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    It's not just about housing costs, it's about demand for goods and services. A family of 2 adults and no children does not have to purchase as much as a family of 2 adults and 2 children. That means reduced sales at the grocery store, at the clothing store, etc. It means no buying the minivan. It means no spending money on doctors and dentists for the kids. There are entire industries built up around providing for families that never get off the ground because no one wants to raise kids in the area. So what happens? People who DO have kids in the area don't have as many choices, because low demand eliminates many competitors. So they want to leave.

    If you want to be a welcoming city, you need to welcome every sort of individual and family arrangement.

  • At 12/05/2007 11:56 AM, Blogger eeldip said…

    the conventional wisdom is that numbers generally don't play well with any argument Kotkin makes.

    he's a bit of a pariah in academic circles because his work is not up to professional standards, he's more of an opinion piece guy.


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