Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Filling the Donut Hole: Migration Patterns in Cleveland

Ohio City Inc., the community development corporation for the Ohio City neighborhood, recently commissioned a white paper entitled "From Balkanized Cleveland to Global Cleveland" (authored by Richey Piiparinen and Jim Russell) found here. The paper addresses a wide breadth of subjects, but the most important takeaway is the confirmation of a trend of urban in-migration among young people, put in graph form.

City populations change by means of four basic events:
1. People move in
2. People move away
3. Births
4. Deaths

Large cities like New York and Chicago have abnormally high rates of both (1) and (2) such that they're constantly churning residents as people move in for a few years and then move away. Cleveland, by contrast, has very low rates of both move-ins and move-outs, but slowly leaks away population as the replacement rate by move-ins and births do not balance out the formula.

A 30,000 foot view of the population of the greater Cleveland area indicates a slow, drawn-out decline:
Source: City of Cleveland, City Planning Commission
Two alternative examination of population growth trends tells us a different story, and serves as a leading indicator for things to come. The first is the much-ballyhooed increase in downtown population, especially when compared with other neighborhoods:

Source: MetroTrends Urban Institute
The real story behind the decline in downtown population in the 1950s and the subsequent rebound in 1970 was because of urban renewal and the construction of housing projects. Different about this new wave of growth is the absence of public housing construction driving it -- these are almost entirely privately driven, market-rate apartments occupied by urban professionals.

Another method of making sense of the aggregate data is is to break down the data by age cohorts. As seen here, "unexpected" downtown population growth is off the charts for the under-35 age group, and the adjoining residential neighborhoods Ohio City and Tremont are experiencing the same kind of growth among 25-34-year-olds. 

Source: MetroTrends Urban Institute
With this data, it's easy to hypothesize that the younger cohorts are following the predictable pattern of graduating school, moving to the city from their parents' sleepy suburb, getting a job downtown. When the late 30s and 40s roll around, it's time to get married, move to the suburbs, have kids, and repeat the process. This is a pattern that we've witnessed before in places like Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, although the recession is causing delays in family formation (we've even fallen below the replacement rate in the aggregate).

The author's explanation of this trend all align to tell the story of declining opportunities and degrading quality of life offered by the nation's "global" cities:

[W]hat cannot be overlooked is the “cool fatigue” that’s affecting many global city inhabitants. There is an increasing chorus of concern that global cities are turning into “vast gated communities where the one per cent reproduces itself”. Here, rising housing costs, deepening income inequalities, cultural homogenization due to vast commercialization of local neighborhood identity, it all provides psychogeographic fuel for seeking alternative, “frontier” locations...Taken together, talent is slamming into a ceiling in thick labor market metros. They are increasingly finding a better return on their skills in Rust Belt cities like Cleveland. 
(Source: Balkanization)
This is positive news for Cleveland and the rust belt in general, but the one key missing agreement is the attraction of talent via in-migration. We need to be more proactive to attract immigrants to this city. And it might even be time for City Hall to consider opening its mind to the attraction of international immigrants, too.

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