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Done Right, Downtown Growth Can Be Good For All
City leaders and urban enthusiasts have been raving about the re-population of America's cities for some time now. But much of the excitement had been around the growth of broader metro areas, not growth within actual city limits.
Perhaps for the first time since the 2010 Census data was released, there is a study that looks specifically at the growth within downtown areas - not just as places to work, but also as places to live.
Last week, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that there has been significant population growth in the downtown areas of many major U.S. cities. "Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, metro areas with 5 million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas (within a two-mile radius of their largest city's city hall), more than double the rate of these areas overall," the report stated.
Chicago, New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco were among the largest downtown population gainers. Chicago alone attracted 48,000 new residents to its downtown over the decade studied. A few cities, such as New Orleans and Baltimore, bucked the trend. New Orleans is probably the least surprising due to the outmigration after Hurricane Katrina.
What's most interesting is the demographic profile of those fueling downtown population growth. According to the report, non-Hispanic whites account for most of the population increases in the central areas of many of the largest principal cities, especially those in the largest metro areas.
Conversely, African-Americans have been moving to metro areas but are moving OUTSIDE of the area's largest city. This trend is most evident in Atlanta. Similarly, the Hispanic alone group has been moving to metros but opting to populate the territories bordering the city limits.
Regardless of distribution by race, the good news here is that we now have concrete data indicating the growth of downtown areas. Here in Boston, the growth couldn't be more evident. Spurred largely by the tight housing market and need for more residential units, there are multiple new housing developments being built downtown. Over a thousand housing units have been permitted in recent months.
Boston's experience likely reflects a broader demographic change nationwide: people, particularly young professionals and empty nesters, are looking to move downtown to be close to work, school, restaurants, entertainment and cultural amenities. The goal for urban planners should be to capitalize on this growth by linking other city neighborhoods to opportunities downtown as these centers flourish. As research has shown, the urban poor, often constrained by housing and transportation, are highly dependent on local jobs. Connecting inner city residents to downtown jobs can help to reduce poverty and build stronger, more equitable cities, and by extension, more economically stable regions.
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By James Wilson on 10/10/2012
I would need a definition for ‘inner cities’ at this point. In Philadelphia’s case, it used to be in areas of North, South and West Philadelphia. Recently, these areas have experienced growth also. Point Breeze has become more diverse and has also picked up a new name as a result of some development: New Bold. The influx of new residents must have led them to think they were on a new frontier. It’s still South Philadelphia. Temple University’s housing shortage has caused major growth in the inner city of North Philadelphia. West Philadelphia benefits from the University of Penn’s constant growth but Southwest Philadelphia has lagged behind. Philadelphia is still beset by high poverty and low literacy rates though. It is great to see continued market rate development in housing but who will be able to qualify for the mortgages? The answer might be obvious but individuals already living in communities would love new housing also. I love the business corridor on Passyunk Avenue and wish it could be replicated on Point Breeze Avenue. I love the growth of downtown Philadelphia but I also see changes in other areas that are for the positive.
By Michael Bell on 10/10/2012
“Done right” is the key phrase here. New demand for inner-city locations leads to higher land prices that displace low-income residents and businesses. A variety of planning, zoning and fiscal tools are necessary to ensure that downtown redevelopment is “good for all.”
In particular, community-created land values end up as windall profits for the affluent owners of prime sites. This encourages real estate speculation that leads to additional land price inflation. This, in turn, chokes off infill development and sends affordable projects to cheaper but more remote sites (sprawl).
Some jurisdictions are rectifying this situation by transforming their property tax into a public-services access fee. This is accomplished by reducing the tax rate on buildng values and increasing the tax rate on land values. The lower tax on buildings makes them cheaper to construct, improve and maintain. Surprisingly, the higher tax on land values helps keep land prices more affordable by reducing the profit from real estate speculation. The net result is more affordable infill deveopment for residents and businesses alike.
Your jurisdiction could do this too. See http://www.justeconomicsllc.com for more info.
By Rick Rybeck on 10/10/2012
Great article. Based on my first career in Urban Design, the cost of living in a new downtown residential development is significantly higher than other areas – not because of greed, but due to the insanely high cost of construction (materials, labor, etc…).
I disagree whole-heatedly with the article’s seventh paragraph that dismisses the importance of a diverse living community, not just because I am African American… many studies show that a variety of cultures makes for a more vibrant community. There is a strong aggregate correlation between income and housing distribution by race and therefore, unless there is an effort to figure out a way around the high costs of construction, growing downtowns will continue to be monocultural. :- )
To Rick’s point about infill development, high construction costs also makes infill development almost impossible. However, maybe infill sites can be better handled by the non-profit sector? Likewise, infill sites makes for great opportunities to create networks of small community parks and gardens, which are also in dire need in inner cities. :- )
By Ellis Still on 10/31/2012
Here in Kansas City, Missouri, the City, Downtown Council and the Economic Development Corporation are about to issue an RFP for market-rate multifamily development within the immediate downtown area. We will give preference to new construction projects becase of the inability of new construction to access equity sources available to the rehabilitation of older, historic buildings. If we can spur an increase in rental rates for market-rate housing, we believe we can successfully shrink that gap.
By Bob Long on 11/02/2012
BY Amanda Maher on October 2nd, 2012
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