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Center Cities Drawing Young College Grads Even in Shrinking Regions

The central cities of America's urban areas have seen a 34 percent increase in young college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

The central cities of America’s urban areas have seen a 37 percent increase in young, college-educated residents over the last decade. Image: City Observatory

In another striking sign of shifting generational preferences, the number of young college graduates is on the rise in central cities across the country — even in regions that are shrinking overall.

That’s according to a new report from City Observatory [PDF], which found the number of 25- to 34-year-olds with college degrees living within three miles of a downtown area has increased dramatically — 37 percent nationally — over roughly the last decade. America’s total population increased about 11 percent in the same period.

College-educated millennials are even more likely to live in central city areas than their Generation X predecessors. And the trendline is among 51 metro areas examined, just two — Detroit and Birmingham — saw a net loss in 25- to 34-year-old college grads living within three miles of downtown.

Interestingly, the total number of people living in America’s core cities remained roughly unchanged between 2000 and 2012, at about 9.4 million people. (There was, however, enormous variation by metro region.) The millennial generation is also a larger cohort than the Gen X group that came before them, and more likely to have a college degree, but that doesn’t fully explain the trend.

Clearly, shifting preferences are at work, says study author Joe Cortright. The number of young college graduates increased twice as fast in core cities as it did in American metro areas overall.

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Not Just a Phase: Young Americans Won’t Start Motoring Like Their Parents

Image: U.S. Public Interest Research Group

Young adults in 2009 were driving less and walking, biking, and riding transit more than young adults in 2001, according to the National Household Travel Survey. Chart: U.S. Public Interest Research Group

A raft of recent research indicates that young adults just aren’t as into driving as their parents were. Young people today are walking, biking, and riding transit more while driving less than previous generations did at the same age. But the vast majority of state DOTs have been loathe to respond by changing their highway-centric ways. 

A new report by the U.S. Public Interest Research Group points out the folly of their inaction: If transportation officials are waiting for Americans born after 1983 to start motoring like their parents did, they are likely to be sorely disappointed.

Though some factors underlying the shift in driving habits are likely temporary — caused by the recession, for instance — just as many appear to be permanent, the authors found. That means American transportation agencies should get busy preparing for a far different future than their traffic models predict.

“The Millennial generation is not only less car-focused than older Americans by virtue of being young, but they also drive less than previous generations of young people,” write authors Tony Dutzik, Jeff Inglis, and Phineas Baxandall.

There’s a good deal of evidence that the recession cannot fully explain the trend away from driving among young people. Notably, driving declined even among millennials who stayed employed, and “between the recession years of 2001 and 2009, per-capita driving declined by 16 percent among 16 to 34 year-olds with jobs,” the authors write.

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Census Data Shows How Much Less Millennials and Gen-Xers Commute by Car

Change in share of Generation X Commuters (aged 25-54) driving to work, 2007 to 2013. Image: Brookings, from analysis of American Community Survey data

Change in share of Generation X Commuters (aged 25-54) driving to work, 2007 to 2013. Image: Brookings, from analysis of American Community Survey data

Cross-posted from Brookings’ The Avenue blog. This article is the second in a short series examining new Census data on transportation trends.

Nationally, most commuters are still revving up their cars to get to work every morning, but the picture is more complicated when you look across different age groups.

Based on the latest Census data from the 2013 American Community Survey, changes are underway for younger and older commuters alike, especially in the country’s largest metropolitan areas.* By and large, Millennials and Generation X are leading the charge toward a range of alternate modes, including public transportation and walking, while Baby Boomers continue to use their cars at even higher levels.

Indeed, while 82.4 percent of workers ages 16 to 24 — the youngest working Millennials — commute to work by car, that share has fallen by nearly 1.3 percentage points in large metros since 2007 and nearly 4 percentage points less than they did in 1983.

Young Millennials also represent the commuters who most frequently take public transportation (5.8 percent of them commute that way) and walk to work (6.6 percent). They’re not only ditching the car in traditional multimodal hubs like San Francisco but in several smaller metros as well. For example, Tucson ranked first nationally in its transit growth among these workers, seeing their share rise 5.5 percentage points since 2007. Meanwhile, more young workers are walking in other university-centric metros like Syracuse (+3.6 percent since 2007), New Haven (+2.4), and Austin (+1.7).

Still, driving dips aren’t limited to Millennials; Generation X commuters are shifting away from private vehicles in nearly equal numbers. Overall, workers aged 25 to 54 saw their driving rate fall by 0.9 percentage points between 2007 and 2013. That drop equates to roughly 750,000 drivers — about the total number of commuters in Milwaukee — switching to other modes. That might help explain the stalling amount of miles driven across the country.

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Why Transit Agencies Should Woo “Bohemian Boomers” and “Metro Moms”

Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by geography. Graphic courtesy TransitCenter.

Transit use varies tremendously by age, but not so much by the region people inhabit. Maps: TransitCenter

A new national survey released today by TransitCenter seeks to understand not just the who, but also the why, of Americans’ increasing transit use. The survey found that Americans’ feelings towards transit and cities vary considerably by age, personal values, and whether transit provides a feasible travel option in their neighborhoods. Factors that don’t have much of an effect on transit use include having children at home, education level, having very high incomes, and the region of the country people inhabit.

The survey also identified several individual factors strongly linked to transit use. Residents of dense, transit-friendly environment, people with jobs or enrolled in school, people of color, low-income Americans, and people with access to high-quality transit are all more likely to ride transit, echoing previous survey findings.

The TransitCenter survey goes beyond prior research by trying to understand personal characteristics that might motivate transit use. Transit users are likely to have grown up in neighborhoods with convenient transit, to be open to new things and experiences, and to want to remain productive while traveling. These motivations are almost as strong as more basic motivations, like relying on transit because no other options are available.

transitcenter poll

The survey also reinforces prior research into the kinds of neighborhoods Americans want, finding that Americans generally want a blend of space and walkability, and that there are significant mismatches between the types of places people would like to live, and the places they actually call home. Only 37 percent of respondents who live in suburban residential areas preferred that type of neighborhood, for instance, and only 28 percent of them wanted to live in such a neighborhood as children. Almost half of all respondents (48 percent) wanted to live in mixed-use suburban or small town areas, and more than half of people who live in those areas are satisfied with their locations.

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One Dad’s Twitter Photo Essay on His Daughter’s Perilous Walk to School

“So who’s up for a long rant/photo-essay about kids walking to school and urban design on this fine back-to-school Thursday morning?” asked Canadian author and journalist Chris Turner on Twitter this morning. And so began a numbered tour of the hazards encountered on his 9-year-old daughter’s walk to school.

It was partly inspired by this Yehuda Moon cartoon:

cartoon

But Turner wasn’t satisfied with the cartoon’s cheeky conclusion that parents are making bad decisions. “Too often, these discussions blame PARENTS,” he tweeted, “not URBAN DESIGN.”

To illustrate his point, he tweeted “a photo primer in how urban design in an inner-city community encourages parents not to even think about letting their [kids] walk.”

By the way, Turner’s daughter is trying out the walk to school because the 18-block journey, which takes six to eight minutes in a car, takes 55 minutes on the school bus. She’s the first on and the last off, commuting two hours a day to get 18 blocks. It takes half an hour to walk it. Last year, her parents drove her every day, but now they’re trying the walk.

“This morning was my first on walking duty,” Turner wrote. “Spent the entire walk explaining to our 9yo all the different ways cars had been prioritized. Because I want her to have plenty of ammo for future therapy.”

Two blocks from Turner’s house on a walkable street with a sidewalk they come face to face with the car-centric, ped-hostile design he was talking about: this “outsized intersection” with “gas station sliplanes, ped markings beyond faded.”

brightenedIt’s the “first unequivocal sign to pedestrians: beyond be serpents. Cease and desist,” he writes.

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Is Your City a Great Place to Raise Kids? Could It Be?

Jennifer Langston of the Sightline Institute in Seattle has so far published eight articles in a series called Family-Friendly Cities. She shows that while Seattle has a lower share of the population under age 15 than the rest of the state of Washington, that gap is closing. The number of kids in Seattle is growing far faster than in the rest of the state.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

“Whatever the underlying causes, the data certainly make intuitive sense, given the expectant parents I know searching for cribs that will fit in the closets of their Capitol Hill apartments and downtown daycares with open infant slots (harder to find than a magical unicorn!),” wrote Langston. “In my own Seattle neighborhood, the new elementary school that opened four years ago to handle our local baby boom filled up so fast that there’s now a lottery to get in.”

In fact, while all over the country, demographic factors — delayed fertility, lower birth rates, the silver tsunami — are raising the median age, Seattle is unusual in seeing the share of its population under 15 rise — and dramatically.

Image: Sightline

Image: Sightline

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Are Children Parasites on Cities’ Finances?

Photo: Bruce Chan

Photo: Bruce Chan

No sooner did Streetsblog LA roll out its new series (and hashtag) #streetsr4families than the Washington Post asked whether it really benefits cities to attract families with kids at all. After all, wrote Lydia DePillis yesterday, while single twenty-somethings freely spend their money on $12 cocktails and $50 concert tickets, parents avail themselves of taxpayer-funded services like public schools and parks. Parasites on the system.

DePillis referenced a 2001 Brookings Institution study, “Envisioning a Future Washington,” [PDF] which put a price tag on attracting different types of new residents. The researchers found that a two-parent family with two kids would cost the city $6,200 annually, mostly because they use public schools, while a childless couple generates a net gain for the city of $13,000.

As someone who takes it on faith that children truly are an indicator species of a healthy city, reading that shook me. Could it be that we parents are, after all, a drain on the cities we love?

The topic is especially salient right now, as I’ve been engrossed in the Sightline Institute’s ongoing series, “Family-Friendly Cities.” In it, author Jennifer Langston writes at length about what cities can do to attract families with children. (More on that later.) But DePillis’s words made me suddenly uncomfortable with the whole proposition. Why should cities bend over backwards for families with kids — letting valuable real estate become children’s play areas, sullying its eateries with crayons and kids’ menus, preserving three-bedroom row houses amid the rush to build studio apartments — when those families actually end up bringing the city down?

DePillis answered her own question, of course. Parents are often in their prime earning years, and they buy expensive houses. Those houses become more expensive when the schools improve — “Trulia crunched the numbers, and found that homes in districts with highly-rated schools are a third more expensive than the metro average, while those in districts with poor schools are much cheaper,” DePillis wrote. That relegates lower-income kids to the city’s worst schools — but if we’re just looking through a lens of GDP, those pricey homes add to the city’s bottom line.

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“Safe Routes” Goes Global With the Model School Zone Project

"Please give us a safe route to school." This picture of a 9-year-old girl in Vietnam helped catalyze street improvements. All photos courtesy of Safe Streets Worldwide

“Please give us a safe route to school.” This picture of a 9-year-old girl in Vietnam helped catalyze street improvements. All photos courtesy of Safe Kids Worldwide

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

To get to Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, students have to cross a heavily trafficked road with a blind curve. Between 2009 and 2010, 89 children were injured and one killed in 86 traffic crashes near the school.

Seoul Gumsan then had the good fortune to become part of the international Model School Zone program, which chose 10 schools in 10 countries to showcase how better infrastructure and education could help keep kids safe on their way to and from school.

To make Seoul Gumsan safer, Safe Kids Korea, in conjunction with Safe Kids Worldwide, painted a mural on the side of the school to clue drivers in to the fact that they were in a school zone. They also installed skid-proof pavement on the road, since they found that cars often skidded in wintry conditions. In conjunction with directional road signs and other traffic calming measures, the average vehicle speed near the school went down by nearly half, from 34 kilometers per hour (21 mph) to about 18 kph (11 mph).

Near the Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, before and after Model School Zone street treatments.

Near the Seoul Gumsan Elementary School in South Korea, before and after Model School Zone street treatments.

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Getting Rural Kids Walking and Biking: A Case Study From Northeast Iowa

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Nationally, more than 14,000 schools have taken part in Safe Routes to School programs. Though dedicated federal funding was stripped out in the current transportation law, SRTS funds have helped improve sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and other infrastructure near schools, as well as education and enforcement. However, most SRTS projects are in urban and suburban settings. Rural areas have their own distinct challenges when it comes to walking and biking.

Six counties in Northeast Iowa benefit from an unprecedented push for Safe Routes to School. Image: ##http://uerpc.org/uploads/PDF_File_64511658.pdf##UERPC##

Six counties in Northeast Iowa participated in the push for Safe Routes to School. Photo: UERPC

One rural region is trying to overcome those challenges. Ashley Christensen, the regional SRTS liaison for a six-county area in northeastern Iowa known as Upper Explorerland, says that when the state DOT and the non-profit Iowa Food and Fitness Initiative started the region’s Safe Routes program in 2008, there was no information out there with guidance about how to build a SRTS program in a rural setting.

“We know no other region in Iowa had worked on one when we started and are pretty confident that statement holds true for the rest of the U.S., too,” Christensen told Streetsblog.

With distances between home and school far longer than in urban areas and safe walking infrastructure far less common, Upper Explorerland’s SRTS program had its work cut out for it. “Rural areas typically do not have the sidewalks, crosswalks, etc. that urban settings do, so SRTS work in a rural setting has the unique challenge — or opportunity, as I like to think of it — of utilizing what is available and advocating for more pedestrian accommodations,” Christensen said.

The Northeast Iowa schools do similar activities to other Safe Routes locations: walking school buses and bicycle trains chaperoned by parents; bike rodeos to teach bicycle safety and road skills. But they also use techniques that might not be needed in denser areas, like remote drop-offs. A remote drop-off functions like a park-and-ride, where parents meet in a parking lot and walk their kids the rest of the way to school. All told, the programs reach 10,000 students from 20 school districts and six private schools in a rural area the size of Connecticut.

While some of the schools in the Upper Explorerland SRTS jurisdiction are located in walkable communities, others are “located along major highways in the middle of a cornfield, miles away from the nearest community,” Christensen reports.

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Will Young Republicans Change the Narrative About Conservatives and Cities?

Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from ##http://www.people-press.org/2014/06/12/ideal-community-type/##Pew Research Center##

Republicans under 30 like cities more than Democrats over 30. Is the urban/rural divide becoming less politicized? Image by Tony Dutzik using data from Pew Research Center

Last week, the Pew Research Center came out with a massive poll on political polarization in the United States. As Angie reported here, one of the main conclusions was that there is a stark divide between liberals and conservatives when it comes to the type of community in which they want to live. Conservative Americans, by and large, prefer living in spread-out rural areas and small towns, while liberals tend to prefer cities.

None of that is too surprising. But the Pew data tell another story, too: young Americans — both Democrat and Republican — are far more likely to express a desire to live in cities than older Americans.

When asked, “If you could live anywhere in the United States that you wanted to, would you prefer a city, a suburban area, a small town or a rural area?”, 38 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds said they preferred to live in a city, as opposed to just 23 percent of 30- to 49-year-olds and even smaller proportions of older Americans.

The difference in preference for city living by age group is especially vivid among young Republicans. About one third of 18- to 29-year-old Republicans and Republican “leaners” expressed the desire to live in a city, as opposed to no more than 13 percent of any other Republican age group. In fact, Republicans under 30 are more likely to want to live in a city than Democrats over the age of 30.

There has, of course, been a lot of talk about the degree to which the transportation and housing preferences of the Millennial generation diverge from those of older Americans. We already know that they drive less than previous generations and have expressed a strong willingness to seek out communities with a variety of transportation options.

While there’s a limited amount that we can learn from the Pew survey about changes in trends among young people, given the lack of comparable survey data from previous years, the data do raise some intriguing possibilities.

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