A Changing Urban-Suburban Mix

In the 1950s Americans moved from the cities into the suburbs, frequently to large, sprawling developments of dozens or hundreds of nearly identical and newly-built homes. By 1970 much of that process was complete. “Inner city” was synonymous with poor, frequently minority populations while “suburb” conjured images of middle class, white collar or professional people—mostly white.

That has been changing for some time. Poor blacks are moving out of the “inner city” into the adjacent suburbs or to the South in a reversal of the Great Migration of the 1920s. Derek Thompson remarks at Atlantic:

For many years, the New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago areas have seen more departures than arrivals among nonimmigrants. Domestic migration to these metros has been negative for most of the 21st century.

Also for many years now, America’s biggest metros have attracted high-income firms and young, highly educated workers. On the one hand, this phenomenon had led to the sparkling revitalization of many downtown areas, a golden age of fine dining, and an eerie urban selfsameness with green-plant-and-exposed-brick coffee shops and lunch-in-a-bowl restaurants. But on the other hand, this urban blossoming has also made many desirable downtown areas too expensive for non-rich people to start a family, forcing new parents to move out to the fringes of the metro, or leave entirely.

There’s little mystery about where people are heading, or why: They are mostly moving toward sun and some semblance of affordability. The major Texas metros—Houston, Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin—have collectively grown by more than 3 million since 2010. The most popular destinations for movers are now Phoenix, Dallas, and Las Vegas, which welcome more than 100,000 new people each year.

Depending on how you look at it Chicago is either a harbinger or an object lesson:

But in many ways, Chicago’s problems make it a canary in the metropolitan coal mine. Immigration to the area has declined by half since the early 2000s. High earners have swarmed the Chicago River banks, revitalizing the downtown area, but the more diverse middle class, especially the city’s African American population, is evacuating Chicago’s suburbs. During the Great Migration of the 20th century, when millions of black Americans moved to northern cities, the population of Chicago went from 4 percent black in 1920 to nearly 40 percent black by 1990. But this century has seen a “Reverse Great Migration,” as the metro black population is on pace to halve from its peak of 1.2 million by 2030. This could reflect a flight from high-crime neighborhoods and the racist legacy of redlining throughout Chicagoland. Less pessimistically, it might be a sign that a lot of young black families would just rather live where they can afford more house, like in the suburbs of Atlanta and Houston.

Each of these Chicago phenomena—declining immigration, revitalized downtowns coinciding with a middle-class exodus, and the specific decline of the black population—has spread from the heartland to America’s largest coastal metros.

I think that Mr. Thompson is sugar-coating what’s happening to some degree. If Chicago is any gauge the big cities have become fantastically corrupt. Political corruption is so normal we don’t even recognize that it’s corruption any more. For people to get ahead or live safely they either need to leave the cities or live in gated communities or buildings with security. That costs money.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I think that the 2020 decennial census will come as an enormous surprise to a lot of people.

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