New Geography ran a piece by Joel Kotkin that tries to explain why our cities, despite the strides made to make them more livable, have actually lost population.
Rather than place all their bets on attracting 20-somethings cities must focus on why early middle-age couples are leaving. Some good candidates include weak job creation, poor schools, high taxes and suffocating regulatory environments. Addressing these issues won’t keep all young adults in urban settings, but it might improve the chances of keeping a larger number.
Young people move out of the cities because they get married and have kids, and unless they’re exceeding wealthy and can afford private education, they move to the suburbs where they don’t buy a house, they buy access to better schools. That’s it in a nutshell.
To a person, every young couple I’ve ever met who established themselves in the city moved out of the city after they had kids for one simple reason: Schools.
You can do all the research and demographic studies you want, but families gravitate towards the places with the best schools they can afford. In the suburbs, the cost of the education includes a house and a piece of land. Not a bad deal, even when the house is built like crap.
This trend will reverse if and when we realign our priorities about what makes a great city; that it’s not convention centers, football stadiums, aquariums, or other big ticket, feather-in-a-cap items. It’s all about fixing the schools, cleaning the parks, and securing the streets. Do that, and watch the suburbs turn into ghost towns and havens for meth labs.