Demographics Are Not Developing As Planners Predicted

COST Commentary: This is one of a series of planned postings starting with the previous News Article. There are numerous U.S. trends developing which are contrary to previous planners’ predictions. Many of these inaccurate projections have served as major foundations for transportation and land use recommendations and decisions.

The first article below is recent and addresses one such area of planners’ inaccurate predictions regarding the choices of Americans who are retiring or reaching the latter stage of their lives. They are not flocking to denser urban cores and living in higher density environments.

The second article addresses the way cities (urban areas) grow and concludes: “Urban growth continues to be overwhelmingly in less dense suburban areas, rather than in the more dense urban cores, and as a result even as urban areas grow, they become less dense. This is how cities grow.” This article is from 2011,but the points are still valid as cities continue to grow as described.

The third article includes the most recent 2015 U.S. Census data. It emphasis a decades-long trend of more Americans moving to suburbs than to cities now continues after a temporary shift during the past recession.

Neither of these articles support major predictions, by many planners, of higher urban core densities and increasing trends of the movement of senior citizens to live in urban core density. These predictions are frequently and unwisely used as part of the justification for urban core light rail systems.

by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox 02/19/2016

In the coming decades, the United States is going to look a lot greyer. By 2050, the number of Americans over 65 will almost double to 81.7 million, with their share of the overall population rising to 21 percent from roughly 15 percent now, according to Census projections. More than 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 every day.

Virtually every part of America will become more senior-dominated, but some more than others.

To determine where seniors are most heavily clustered, we examined 2014 American Community Survey data for the country’s 53 largest metropolitan statistical areas and looked at which areas have the highest percentages of seniors. In many ways these areas are already experiencing what most of the country will in the coming decades.

The most aged regions come largely in two forms. Retirement metro areas are older in large part due to longstanding patterns of senior migration. First on our list of most aged places is Tampa-St. Petersburg, Fla., where 18.7 percent of the population is over 65, well above the national average of 13.3 percent. Tucson, in dry and warm Arizona, ranks third at 17.7 percent while Miami is fourth, with 17 percent.

But many of America’s oldest metro areas have little in common with arid Arizona or steamy Florida. Many of the most senior-heavy areas are in the Rust Belt, which has been losing residents to other places for generations, particularly the young. This includes America’s second most senior-dominated metro area, Pittsburgh, where a remarkable 18.3 percent of the population is over 65, 26 percent higher than the national average. Other Rust Belt towns that are heavily grey include No. 5 Buffalo (16.7 percent senior); No. 6 Cleveland (16.5 percent); No. 7 Rochester, N.Y. (16.0 percent); No. 8 Providence, R.I. (15.8 percent), No. 9 Hartford (15.7 percent); and No. 10 St. Louis (14.9 percent). No. 11 Birmingham, Ala. (14.7 percent), although located in the South, has a long history as a heavy manufacturing center.

And where are seniors still relatively thin on the ground? Mostly in the booming sections of the Sun Belt, places that have long enjoyed considerable positive in-migration from both other states and abroad. Three of the five least senior-dominated places are in Texas, including Austin (9.4 percent), Houston (9.8 percent) and Dallas-Ft. Worth (10.2 percent). The other two include Salt Lake City, the family friendly Mormon capital where only 9.6 percent of residents are over 65 and high-tech capital Raleigh (10.6 percent).

Biggest Senior Gains

The picture is very different when we begin to look at where the share of seniors in the population has been growing the fastest. This reflects not so much better weather, per se, or the prevalence of older, declining industries, but the biggest migration pattern of the past 40 years: the movement of massive numbers of people to lower-cost, usually growing states.

Now many of these same people are reaching 65, and more will soon. Typical of areas that are still young but are now aging rapidly is Atlanta – the senior share of its population grew 20 percent between 2010 and 2014. This is well above the increase of 11.3 percent across all the 53 largest metropolitan areas. Other areas that combine overall migration gains with rapid rates of aging include Raleigh, where the senior share grew 18.1 percent over the time span we examined; Las Vegas, a major magnet for migrants for a generation, saw its share grow by 17.7 percent.

Some of the fastest-growing senior areas are also places that have been youth magnets, particularly in recent years. Take for example Portland, Ore., which is sometimes described as the “place young people go to retire.” Now more of the Rose City’s residents are actually retirees or heading in that direction; the share of seniors in Portland’s population grew by 17.4 percent from 2010 to 2014, the fourth-highest rate of any major metropolitan area. Other youth magnets, such as Austin, Denver and Charlotte, have also experienced higher than average senior share growth. All of these metropolitan areas ranked in the top third in domestic migration over the same period.

Why is this happening? Certainly in some places it’s a function of lower prices in these cities; seniors who can cash out of California or New York can feather their nest eggs by moving elsewhere and buying a cheaper home. For those who do not require nonstop sunshine, relocating to Austin, or such North Carolina burgs as Raleigh and Charlotte, does not require a commitment to shoveling snow. Even high-cost Portland and Denver are bargains compared to California and New York.

Another explanation may be that many parents are following their migrating children (and more importantly grandchildren) to these areas. A recent study ranks this among the biggest reason seniors move. Similarly, as many as one in four millennials have moved to be closer to their parents, often to enjoy life in more affordable communities and get help with raising their kids.

Back To The City?

The movement to Sun Belt cities, which tend to be more suburban with more dispersed employment, contradicts one of the favorite urban legends — that millions of aging boomers, now relieved of their children, have been leaving their suburban homes for core city apartments. Some assert that suburbs, being car oriented, will become impossible for seniors as they get older, although eventually autonomous vehicles could allow boomers to drive as long as they can live independently.

Yet as in so many demographic issues, the “back to the city” meme conflicts with both preferences and actual behavior of most seniors. The most recent decennial Census, for example, shows that the senior percentage share in both the inner core and older suburbs dropped between 2000 and 2010 while growing substantially in the newer suburbs and exurbs. The most recent data show these patterns continue. Since 2010 the senior population in core cities has risen by 621,000 while the numbers in suburbia have surged by 2.6 million.

“The back to the city” meme appeals to urban boosters and reporters but in reality the numbers behind it are quite small. A 2011 survey by the real estate advisory firm RCLCO found that among affluent empty nesters, 65% planned to stay in their current home, 14% expected to look for a resort-type residence, and only 3 percent would opt for a condominium in the core city. Most of those surveyed preferred living spaces of 2,000 square feet or more. RCLCO concluded that the empty nester “back to the city” condominium demand was 250,000 households nationwide, a lucrative but small market out of the 4.5 million empty nester households in the metropolitan areas studied.

Rather than move into the city, most boomers, if they move, head towards the periphery or out of town completely. A 2012 National Association of Realtors survey found that the vast majority of buyers over 65 years old looked in suburban areas, followed by rural locales. In contrast, relatively few seniors are likely to give up their homes for condos in the city center; a study by the Research Institute for Housing America suggested that barely 2 percent of all “empty nesters” seek an urban locale.

Looking Ahead

Where seniors move will do much to shape America’s future geography. In some places, notably in the Rust Belt, an aging population may suffer from the lack of young people to generate new wealth, pay taxes or provide them with services. In many others, notably in the Sun Belt, areas now built around youthful migration will have to prepare to accommodate many more aging people. And perhaps the biggest challenges will be felt by suburbs that, built for young families, now have to accommodate a growing senior population.

In the past we always associated change with the movements and desires of the young. But in the 21st century, it may well be the seniors, not the kids, who will be forging new paths in how American communities fare.

No. 1: Atlanta
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 20.3%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 10.8%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 48th

No. 2: Raleigh
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 18.1%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 10.6%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 49th

No. 3: Las Vegas
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 17.7%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 13.3%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 27th

No. 4: Portland
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 17.4%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 13.3%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 27th

No. 5: Jacksonville
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 17.1%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 14.2%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 16th

No. 6: Denver
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 16.4%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 11.7%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 46th

No. 7: Austin
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 16.3%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 9.4%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 53rd

No. 8: Phoenix
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 15.7%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 14.2%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 16th

No. 9: Sacramento
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 15.6%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 13.9%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 21st

No. 10: Tucson
Growth In Senior Share Of Population, 2010-14: 14.7%
Senior Share Of Population (over 65), 2014: 17.7%
Rank Among Major U.S. Cities By Pop. Share: 3rd

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of He is the Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The Human City: Urbanism for the rest of us, will be published in April by Agate. He is also author of The New Class Conflict, The City: A Global History, and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Orange County, CA.

Wendell Cox is Chair, Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California) and principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey” and author of “Demographia World Urban Areas” and “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.” He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.
by Wendell Cox 10/15/2011

Analysts occasionally note that urban areas (“cities”) are becoming larger and denser. This is only half right. It is true that most of the world’s urban areas are becoming larger, with megacities like Delhi, Jakarta, Shanghai, Beijing and Manila adding more than five million people in the last decade and most other urban areas are growing, but not as fast.

Understanding Urban Areas: However almost without exception, urban areas are getting less dense. Because there is so much confusion about city “definitions,” a clarification is required. The only geography for which overall urban density can be measured is the urban area, which is the area of continuous development. The urban area is not constrained by municipal or other jurisdictional boundaries and does not include rural (undeveloped) territory, even if it is in a “central city” (such as Rome, Ho Chi Minh or Marseille, with their expansive boundaries). An urban area is also different from a metropolitan area, because metropolitan areas (as labor markets) always include rural territory, which is by definition not urban.

1960-1990 Data: Historical urban population density is not readily available. Kenworthy and Laube were pioneers in this area, publishing estimates from 1960 to 1990 for a number of urban areas. That data indicates density losses in the more than urban areas for which they were able to develop comparable data. The world average decline was 20 percent, ranging from 15 percent in the United States to 29 percent in Europe and 33 percent in Australia. While Tokyo was doubling in population, its population density was dropping 17 percent between 1960 and 1990. While Zurich was adding 21 percent to its population, it was becoming 13 percent less dense.

Recent Data: The dispersion continues, which is indicated by these high-income world cases:

Today, the ville de Paris has 700,000 fewer people than at its peak, and inner London (generally the former London County Council area) has lost more than 1,500,000 people since its peak. All growth has been in lower density suburban areasin both the London and Paris urban areas.

In the United States, urban areas with more than 1,000,000 population more than doubled in population from 1950 to 2000 (2010 data not yet available), while the population density dropped by nearly one-third. Detailed analysis indicates that this trend has continued over the past decade in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Seattle, St. Louis and other major US urban areas.

The dense core city of Seoul has been losing population and all growth has been in the suburbs, which are lower density.

The dense urban core of Milan has experience substantial population losses, while the less dense suburbs have captured all the growth.
Dispersion is not limited to high income urban areas, with declining densities in evidence across lower and middle income nations as well. For example:

Nearly all of the growth in Jakarta has been in the suburbs for the last 20 years, while the core has gained little in population. The net effect is a less dense, but much larger urban area, because the suburbs are not as dense.

Nearly all of the growth for 30 years in Manila has been in the suburbs, while the core city. Again, the urban area has become much larger, but much less dense because the suburbs are much less dense.

The dense core of Shanghai has lost population and all growth has been in the suburbs, which are lower density.

The population in the dense core of Beijing has nearly stopped growing, with nearly all population in the suburbs, which are lower density.

The core of Mumbai has lost population in two of the last three census periods, while all growth has been in the suburbs, which are lower density.

The urban core of Mexico City has been declining in population since 1960 and all of the growth has been in the suburbs, which are less dense.

The dense core city of Buenos Aires has fewer people today than in 1947, while at least 8 million people have been added to nearly 1,000 square miles of lower density suburbs.

Urban growth continues to be overwhelmingly in less dense suburban areas, rather than in the more dense urban cores, and as a result even as urban areas grow, they become less dense. This is how cities grow.

More Americans Are Again Moving to Suburbs Than Cities
By Laura Kusisto, Mar 24, 2016, Wall Street Journal

Economists to real-estate agents have debated whether the housing boom and bust of the last decade has dramatically remade the way Americans live or merely created a temporary disruption.

U.S. Census data released Thursday provides strong support for the latter thesis—that shifts in where Americans move were merely temporary, according to analysis by Jed Kolko, a senior fellow at the Terner Center for Housing Innovation at the University of California, Berkeley.

For one thing, the rate at which Americans are moving to the suburbs is once again outpacing the rate at which they are moving to cities. That picks up on a decades long trend that only very temporarily reversed during the recession.

Urban counties grew by 0.8% in 2015 to roughly 77 million people, compared with suburban counties, which grew by nearly 1% to 159 million people. Mr. Kolko defines counties as urban based on how dense they were as of the 2010 census.

Suburban areas are growing faster than urban ones with a temporary shift in 2011

Overall, the U.S. population grew by 0.8% from 2014 to 2015, or a difference of about 2.5 million people.

Suburbs have been outpacing cities in population growth for decades. In 2001, suburbs grew about 1.2% while cities grew by about 0.7%.

The trend was exacerbated by the housing boom, when easy mortgages helped buyers afford homes being built at a rapid pace in far-out suburbs. In 2006, suburbs grew by 1.5% while cities instead actually lost nearly 0.4% of their population.

Cities grew faster than suburbs for one year during the last decade, in 2011. While much has been written about the revival of cities, the overall population trends underscore that people flocking to cities remain a select class, mostly of the young, educated and affluent who can afford rising prices. In the meantime, America overall continues to suburbanize.

“Rich, young people are outbidding others for urban housing and so the faster growth in the suburbs certainly reflects tight housing supply in dense neighborhoods,” Mr. Kolko said.

Another decades long trend that has re-emerged is the growth of the South and the West at the expense of the Northeast and the Midwest. The South and West both had population growth of 1.2% in 2015, far ahead of 0.2% growth in the Northeast and Midwest.

During the aftermath of the housing bust, the South and West saw sharp declines in the rate of population growth, while the Northeast and Midwest held relatively steady, although they continued to grow more slowly.

Some familiar metro areas also emerged as big population losers and winners. Austin was the biggest population gainer for four years running from 2011 to 2014. But this year it was surpassed by Cape Coral-Fort Myers, Fla.—also the leader in population growth during the bubble from 2004 to 2006.

Youngstown, Ohio, has been the biggest population loser since 2010 and continued to hold that title. It also lost the most population for most of the boom from 2003 to 2005, but it was surpassed for a few years by New Orleans and Detroit.

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