The Cities of the Future?

I was speaking in Iowa City earlier this week and was reminded again of how vital many Midwestern cities have become.  At the same time, a new research group, City Observatory, iowa-city-signreleased a report about where young college graduates are moving.  As we already know, they like to move to cities.  But, as an excellent New York Times summary points out, what’s interesting is that cities like Nashville, Austin, Portland, Buffalo, Pittsburgh and St. Louis have had the highest percentage increase of young graduates since 2000, all significantly higher than New York City.

I’ve long thought that this is a trend that will continue.  As work becomes more virtualized, and cities like New York and Los Angeles become increasingly expensive, it simply makes sense that both employers and employees will look to cities that offer more affordable lifestyles.  That’s going to be especially true when the bulk of the Millennial generation begins to think about having kids. 

The Internet has not only made it more possible to work at a distance, but it also enhances the smaller city lifestyle.  You don’t have to drive fifty miles to see a foreign film--they’re available, streaming.  The Internet takes care of just about any exotic shopping needs.  There’s the Metropolitan Opera in live HD in your local theater.  And given the speed at which trends now spread across the country, the latest artisanal kale shop will probably show up in your neighborhood only a few months after it debuts in Brooklyn.

Millennium Broadway  ImageYet real estate developers in the major cities continue to build new apartments at a record pace.  In New York City alone, developers like to say there are another million people on the way.   But I’m not so sure.  People like cities, and I don’t expect any reversal of our species‘ five-thousand-year march into urbanization.  But when you add in the new factor of virtual work and life, I don’t think bigger (and more crowded and more expensive) will continue to be better.