28 November 2006

The Other Side of the Coin

I recently found this article by Shaila Dewan the New York Times. It details the difficulty some cities have had retaining young, college educated people in their area. After some initial scene setting paragraphs, the article cuts to the chase:
Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.

Cities have long competed over job growth, struggling to revive their downtowns and improve their image. But the latest population trends have forced them to fight for college-educated 25- to 34-year-olds, a demographic group increasingly viewed as the key to an economic future.

Mobile but not flighty, fresh but technologically savvy, “the young and restless,” as demographers call them, are at their most desirable age, particularly because their chances of relocating drop precipitously when they turn 35. Cities that do not attract them now will be hurting in a decade.
In our community, I have seen quite a lot of preparation for the aging baby boomer generation: tax cuts, 55+ housing, workshops, etc. Let us not forget that Columbia would not be what it is today if it were not for the large migration of young people to the area. Conversely, when I talk to twenty and thirty year olds (some who were raised in Columbia), I hear that it is not the place they would like to live. I believe it is important to balance our plans for the future, and start thinking about attracting young people in addition to helping seniors.

We do not have to re-invent the wheel, another passage from the article states:
They are people who, demographers say, are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication.
I believe many people in this community are committed to tolerance and diversity; however, we have a lot of work with respect to downtown living, public transportation, and entertainment.

As we move forward, let us heed the following quote at the close of the article:
“The real issue was, is your city open to a set of ideas from young people, and their wish to realize their dream or objective in your city,”
I hope we are open to everyone's ideas. It is the only way to continue Columbia's success.


Anonymous said...

"I hear that it is not the place they would like to live."

Really? Perhaps the factors that ranked Columbia #4 in the country in that one magazine's analysis aren't the factors that 20-somethings want most.

Remember that not every place will appeal to all age groups in the same way. While a more urban lifestyle may hold more caché with some 20-somethings while they are 20-somethings, a few years of wisdom along with tiring of the bar scene and perhaps raising a family can certainly change perspectives.

20-somethings may choose a city abode for a few years and pick a job there as a result, but given a few more years, they can move outward, still commuting to the job and live in an environment more fitting to their tastes at that point.

So, I don't think Columbia's anywhere near seeing flight of its creative class anytime soon.

Columbia's population is doing fine without purposefully putting effort into attracting more people. Plenty are finding Columbia all on their own.

By the way, hip cities like San Francisco (downtown living - check, public transportation - check, plenty of entertainment - check) have actually seen population declines in recent years (S.F. dropping about 5% since 2000) while Columbia grew during that same period. How does that jive with the premise of the article you cited?

B. Santos said...


I find your characterization of 20-somethings appalling. Bar scenes? Perhaps raise a family? Do you paint all demographic groups with same broad brush? If so, I would like to hear your take on middle age folks and seniors.

I can not and will not pretend to be the spokesperson for all 25-35 year olds, so much of your comment is out of reach. However, two points need to be made.

First, your statement that those who find a job to the region will (may I suppose instinctivly) move to Columbia and then commute to work in some other city is part of the problem. In a city that was founded on a principle of “respect for nature,” commuting is responsible for a major portion of the pollution (most notably NOx and CO2) we experience in Maryland. As the second largest city in the state, maybe there should be an emphasis on attracting young people and employing them within the city or at least in the county.

Second, your statement about population changes does not address the article quoted at all. I will accept your statement that the population of San Francisco has fallen over the last five years. I will also accept that Columbia’s population has increased over the same period. What your data lacks is a description of those that moved. What is the population change of those 25-35 in each of your cited examples?

In closing, as the Next America and as a community that values diversity and inclusiveness, I would think that Columbia would want to provide an environment that is desirable to people at any stage in life. I will go back to the closing quote from the cited article in my original post: “The real issue was, is your city open to a set of ideas from young people, and their wish to realize their dream or objective in your city,” Anon, are you open to ideas from young people and do you want young people to realize their dreams and/or objectives in Columbia?

Anonymous said...

No, I avoid painting with broad brushes whenever possible, a good rule of thumb being generalizations are generally wrong. Demographically speaking, bar patrons are comprised to a large extent (obviously not exclusively) by 21-34's. Of course there are many other entertainment venues enjoyed by 21-34s and other age groups for that matter. Don't get ruffled - it was just one example for brevity's sake and if you found it derogatory, that was your inference, not my implication. And a common reason for families to move from cities to suburbs is indeed to raise families, many finding flight to be the most expedient means to shelter their families from some, but not all, of some cities' issues.

"I can not and will not pretend to be the spokesperson for all 25-35 year olds...", but you previously said "when I talk to twenty and thirty year olds (some who were raised in Columbia), I hear that it is not the place they would like to live." Sounds like a statement for 25-35s to me, but that may be an inference on my part.

I knew when I wrote that city job holders would still commute to those same jobs after moving to suburbs would be criticized as being a less than optimal situation, but it is current reality. We don't always get to choose to live close to work. On the occasions we do get that choice, instead we still often choose to commute further to have a job that better meets our desired avocation or desired income.

Personally, I'm about as 'green' as they come, well aware of commuting's NOx, COx, and SOx emissions (as well as other non-local sources that add to those levels here).

To address the reality that people can't or won't commute to work locally and to address the resulting air pollution (and other environmental impacts) from these longer commutes, we definitely do need to pursue modern public transit solutions.

Your request for 25-35 specific population shifts for S.F. and Columbia is quite valid. One correction first. S.F.'s population actually dropped 7% (not 5%) between 2000 and 2005.

From U.S. Census County Population Estimates 2000-2005

San Francisco, CA (the city is the entire county)
Year Age Population
2000 25-34 179,337
2005 25-34 136,856
(a decrease of 24%)

Howard County, MD as a whole
Year Age Population
2000 25-34 36,485
2005 25-34 31,629
(a decrease of 13%)

From the 2000 Census Data for Columbia CDP, MD and Census, Columbia CDP, MD 2005 American Community Survey
Year Age Population
2000 25-34 14,166
2005 25-34 12,921
(a decrease of 9%)

From the 2000 Census and the Entire Nation 2005 American Community Survey
Year Age Population
2000 25-34 39,891,724
2005 25-34 38,931,048
(a decrease of 2.4%)

Columbia population total
2000 88,254
2005 93,637
(an increase of 6%)

1. The number 25-34s nationwide dropped from 2000 to 2005.
2. More people moved to Columbia than moved away during that time.
Quoting the article, "They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication".

From the data above, seeing more downtown living, more transit and entertainment equipped San Francisco's 25-34 loss rate 2.5 times greater than Columbia's, it could be construed that downtown living, public transportation, and possibly entertainment options are far less significant factors than some of Columbia's other appreciable assets (job base, diversity, and tolerance).

As to why Columbia's 25-34 population did incur a net drop while the overall population increased, the most likely factor is the cost of housing, not hipness. (Your turn to run the numbers on that - try looking at Columbia's 25-34 populations during '95-'00, '90-'95, etc., when buildout was still occurring. I expect you'll find the 25-34 population increased in proportion to the overall population increase.)

After buildout, people starting or early in their careers were at a disadvantage competing for the limited housing supply in Columbia vs. those in older age groups who could better afford the rapid price increases. Creating more of a 'downtown living' environment wouldn't have changed that playing field.

Right place, right time for those older age groups, not as right place, right time for those starting out.

The County, however, is pursuing options - TOD zoning being one of them. That solves part of the problem.

The State is pursuing options, too - 'Smart' Growth being one of them. Many, many thousands of existing affordable residences await in very nearby more 'downtown living' environments. Combined with pursuing modern public transit options, that would solve part of the problem, too.

Of course I want people (of any age group for that matter) to realize their dreams/objectives, regardless of where they live.

And, I'm open to ideas from any age group, so long as they're good ones.

Columbia was built with a target population planned, wasn't it?

Do you have ideas about reconciling people who moved here with Columbia's planned size in mind with the present desire by some to change Columbia's design to squeeze more folks in?

If so, at what cost to the environment? Can further degrading Columbia's environmental balance be justified to further increase its population when nearby cities have vacant housing stock?

Or are pursuing TOD zoning, Smart growth, and achieving sustainable populations better options?

Anonymous said...

Well even though this comments comes in somewhat late, I will tell you that as a 25 year old who grew up in Columbia, I have very little interest to move back there. Perhaps it would be more appealing if I had children and a family. But because these days working women like me are waiting later and later in life to start having children my interest in Columbia as a home will not come forth for at least 4 years.

Most of my friends move into the cities because of the community that they find there. There are lots of parks and sports leagues, and more importantly, other people their age.

To me it seems like everyone in Columbia is my parent's age. I recognize this is not completely true, but it is my perception just the same. When I select a place to live I look to see the age of the community to make sure others my age live in the area. I just don't get that in Columbia.

Articles and statistics aside, I don't think Columbia provides the ideal location for young people to take up residence.