Are people really moving to the Cities?

I read multiple news sources ostensibly for clarification. Frequently I find confusion rather than clarity; this is one of those situations. Are people moving to the cities or is Charlottesville (the City of, not CharlAlbemarle) an anomaly?

From the DP article titled “Many moving to cities, UVA professors find:

According to the professors, the main reasons for increased interest in city living are abbreviated distances to destinations, proximity to activity centers and frustrations with some aspects of suburbia. Many of the people who are interested in living in cities for these reasons are singles, young professionals, empty nesters and baby boomers. For instance, people in their twilight years desire being able to walk to activity centers for senior citizens, making downtown areas attractive destinations to live near.

And from yesterday’s WSJ opinion page:

Even amidst a strong economic expansion, the most recent census data reveal a renewed migration out of our urban centers. This gives considerable lie to the notion, popularized over a decade, that cities are enjoying a historic rebound. The newest figures are troubling on two accounts. Not only are the perennial losers — Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit — continuing to empty out, but some of our arguably most attractive cities, like Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago, have lost population since 2000.

Even Charlottesville (the City of) has lost population of late (and here) while Albemarle has seen a 23.5% population increase over the past five years.

Does this sound like he is describing Charlottesville?

Given the growing challenge posed by the emerging boomtowns as well as the suburbs and exurbs, wannabe “hip cool” cities need to realize they can’t thrive merely as amusement parks for the rich, the nomadic young and tourists. To remain both vital and economically relevant, they must remain anchored by a large middle class, and by families and businesses that feel safe and committed to the urban place.

The UVA professors seem to agree:

“The future of housing here and elsewhere will depend greatly on where it is relative to job attractions, shopping attractions and entertainment attractions,” he said.

The moral of the story? Statistics can be manipulated in almost any way to make any one point. The City of Charlottesville has become a prohibitively expensive place to live for many people, but a great place to go for urban hipsters, et. al for entertainment.

Without digging into the numbers, using the MLS as the data source, Charlottesville has 308 homes on the market (attached, detached and condos) with the average price being $373k and the median being $310k. Albemarle’s numbers are a bit different – average price is $822k and the median is $472k. The biggest “skew factor”? Albemarle has 111 properties that are at least $1 million and Charlottesville has 5.

The Charlottesville area is a fantastic place to live; there just happens to be more to the area than the City. A lot of people want to move to the City; not so many can afford to move to the City.

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5 Comments

  1. TrvlnMn May 16, 2006 at 21:16

    Not only are the perennial losers — Baltimore, Philadelphia, Cleveland and Detroit — continuing to empty out, but some of our arguably most attractive cities, like Boston, San Francisco, Minneapolis and Chicago, have lost population since 2000.

    I know the high cost of housing is one of the downsides of San Francisco, Boston and possibly Chicago (although from other news articles I’ve read Chicago isn’t losing population).

    Does this sound like he is describing Charlottesville?

    Given the growing challenge posed by the emerging boomtowns as well as the suburbs and exurbs, wannabe “hip cool” cities need to realize they can’t thrive merely as amusement parks for the rich, the nomadic young and tourists. To remain both vital and economically relevant, they must remain anchored by a large middle class, and by families and businesses that feel safe and committed to the urban place.

    If you lived here twenty five years ago as I did, you’d have to say “yes it does sound like Cville.”

    And the fact is as it was then, they can survive as amusement parks for the rich. Because after the rich discovered how wonderful places like Cville were, and decided to move in, their being here helped change the economy by replacing traditional jobs with the service industry jobs that made it the amusement park for the rich that it’s become.

    And locals that didn’t want to work in the new service industry economy, as employees or business owners, moved away as they became priced out of the area.

    Cville is even more of an “amusement park” now than it was 25 years ago. And it’s still not close to going bust.

  2. Jim Duncan May 17, 2006 at 21:03

    Now why is it that that those links go to my site? Perhaps in the wrong order … First, second, third

    Darn statistics – what about the numbers I cited – they are apparently from 2005 … either way, I think that the gist of the numbers is sufficient – people don’t seem to be flocking to cities anymore for a variety of reasons, lack of affordable housing being a primary one.

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