One may never find a single root cause to the ongoing massive shift in population. From “urban living is better” to the recession, a grand contest of theories plays out.

Made you look: with the urban great migration has come a postmodern urban culture. Hoboken is one of the youngest cities in the USA, but comes at a price. Photo by Greg Bond.

Made you look: With the urban great migration has come a postmodern urban culture. Hoboken is one of the youngest cities in the USA, but comes at a steep price. Photo by Greg Bond.

At the heart of the Great Recession is the national housing crisis. Homeownership plummeted when banks made risky loans that buyers could not afford, causing an ever-present wave of foreclosures and bringing homeownership in 2014 to a 19-year low. Ever since the economic downturn struck, there has been a massive boom in urban core population, while rural and exurban locations actually lost population. The only problem with this data is solving the mystery of exactly why.

Homeownership in 2014 reached a 19-year low.

Homeownership in 2014 reached a 19-year low.

In my blog “Developers’ Tunnel Vision”, I touched on the study done by Rutgers University’s Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, which traced the dramatic shift in population into the urban core. But when it comes to why this occurred, the answer can only be theorized. The complexity of this subject has many numbers and dynamics, and presents an opportunity for confusing correlation with causation. The Dean of the Bloustein School who conducted the population study, James W. Hughes, has presented the cause as millennials moving to the city alongside retirees, both seeking greater convenience of activity and living.

Twelve exurban or suburban counties in the greater New York region lost population. On the contrary, the urban core counties gained population startlingly, with Brooklyn gaining over 82,000 residents. All in only three years.

Twelve exurban or suburban counties in the greater New York region lost population. On the contrary, the urban core counties gained population startlingly, with Brooklyn gaining over 82,000 residents. All in only three years.

Last Summer I attended an orientation for new students of the Bloustein School which I recently fully transferred to. For my major, Planning and Public Policy, students of this major were led into a room with the director of the school’s undergraduate program, Professor Tony Nelessen. I recall Professor Nelessen saying something like “you are part of one of the first urban generations.” This would lead one to believe that millennial preference is driving this phenomenon.

Rates of homeownership for people under 35 continues to drop. This is a polar reversal of the late 20th century's suburban boom.

Rates of homeownership for people under 35 continues to drop. This is a polar reversal of the late 20th century’s suburban boom.

But a conflicting report finds that Generation X, born from about 1964 to 1982, has also seen their homeownership rates plummet after the Great Recession. An October 28, 2014 article by Derek Thompson of the Atlantic explains how homeownership among Generation X has been falling at an even faster rate than that of millennials.

Homeownership among people ages 35 to 44 has fallen at an even steeper rate than among people under 35 from 1994 to 2014.

Homeownership among people ages 35 to 44 has fallen at an even steeper rate than among people under 35 from 1994 to 2014.

With these conflicting reports one wonders what is really going on at the heart of this phenomenon. As I would learn in Fall 2013’s The Urban World class at the Bloustein School, this urban great migration is beyond America: it is a worldwide event. More people in the urban core has made the culture of the cities bloom in an unprecedented postmodern fashion. But is the urban shift here to stay? Is the Millennial Gen-Y the main driver of this phenomenon? Is this a revolt against cul-de-sac suburbs? Is urban living simply better? History will continue to write itself, and someday, possibly reveal the great mystery of the age.

-Adam DiSarro

Mass rail transportation is a "locomotive" for the 21st Century urban shift and city culture, along with air travel becoming more fuel-efficient. This train station, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, was built for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

Mass rail transportation is a “locomotive” for the 21st Century urban shift and city culture, along with air travel becoming more fuel-efficient. This train station, the Berlin Hauptbahnhof, was built for the 2006 FIFA World Cup in Germany.

References:

Bloustein Study: http://policy.rutgers.edu/reports/rrr/RRR37sept14.pdf

Derek Thompson Article: http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/10/homeownership-is-historically-weakdont-blame-millennials/382010/

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