Those Urban Boomers: Are They Coming or Going?

As a reader of this blog, you probably know that there has been a fight going on between factions of land-use mavens concerning migratory boomers. The “new urbanists” (led by Richard Florida) have it that boomers are giving up their posh suburban digs and moving in large numbers into cities. On the other hand the realists (led by Joel Kotkin) are looking at U.S. Census Bureau figures and take the contrary position. So who is right?

As far as we are concerned, we have no dog in that fight, and wouldn’t get mixed up in it for love or money. Still, having been involved peripherally in land-use stuff, having been an observer of urban sprawl and how it came about, and having been corrupted in our youth by getting a degree in engineering, we have respect for objectively determinable, scientifically supportable truth — we want to know which of these dudes is right. Our own position is that people should be able to live where and how they choose, and where they can afford to live. Our personal experience has been that unless you have the liquid assets of a real fat-cat (in which case city living can be pretty neat) for ordinary people suburban living beats the hell out of the alternative in terms of quality of life, economics, safety, quality of schools for your kids, etc.

Now, there has been a fascinating development that suggests that someone may have been cooking the statistics. Two major newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post have come down recently on the side of the new urbanists and have reported that the boomers — some 1,000,000 of them — have been heading from suburbia to “hip” city neighborhoods. Now, the New Geography magazine has taken a closer look at things, and disagrees. Its findings are that:

“Within the five mile radius of downtown, there was a net loss of nearly 1,000,000 baby boomers, or 2 percent of the 2000 population (ages 35 to 55). There was also  a loss of 800,000 in the suburbs, or 17 percent of the 2000 population. The continuing dispersion of the nation is indicated by the fact that there was a gain of nearly 450,000  in this cohort outside the major metropolitan areas. Overall, there was a net loss od 1.3 million, principally due to deaths.”

Wendell Cox,  Urban Core Boomer Population Drop 1 Million 2000-2010, New Geography, Sep. 11, 2013. Click here

To us, the fascinating thing is not so much these disparate figures, but rather the fact that Cox contacted these two newspapers to verify these figures, whereupon the Wall Street Journal corrected its story, while the Washington Post has not. In Cox’s words it is “hanging tough.”

So whom do you believe? The Journal or the Post?

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