City Living Not Just a Modern Shift

We live in an age of rapid urbanization, with those migrating to city centers largely being rich, college-educated, and childless. But the uptick of urban wealth and decline in rural populations isn’t just a modern phenomenon. A century ago, before the suburbs exploded in the 20th century, the wealthy largely settled in urban areas, a demographic pattern that’s happening in the U.S. again today, according an article from The Washington Post called “What the 1880s Tell Us About Why the Rich are Moving to Cities Today.”

The appeal of today’s downtowns lies in renowned city infrastructure, mixed-use urban property, refurbished parks, and accessible transportation. According to Census Bureau data, 80.7 percent of the U.S. population lived in urban areas in 2010, up from 79 percent in 2000. Compare 2010 with 1990, or even 1980, and it’s clear that the relative socioeconomic status of city dwellers — reflecting both their income and education levels — has been creeping up, according to the Post.

Until the 1990s, the vast majority of U.S. citizens chose to avoid living in the city. But in 1880, the rich lived in the city, and the working class lived on the outskirts, the Post notes. Though people moved toward urban centers in the 1800s for many reasons that are far different than today, some similarities remain between then and now, says Jeffrey Lin, an economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia. For example, downtowns built in 1880 — before the automobile was invented — were designed to easily get around by foot or local transit. That’s a top draw for people today who want to eliminate or shorten their commute. Early downtowns were also designed with parks and amenities in mind — the same desires for today’s urban buyers.

“We’ve spent the last 80 years building car-oriented suburbs. Then when the elites decide they want to go back into the city, there’s not enough city to go around,” says Ben Grant, urban design policy director at San Francisco-based advocacy and research group SPUR. According to the Post article, fluctuations in economic and cultural tastes cause the continuous cycle in city demographics, which directly affect future real estate investments. Today, the rich bid high on city investments while lower classes are pushed back into suburban living in a battle of economic security and profit.

Source: “What the 1880s tell us about why the rich are moving to cities today,” The Washington Post (June 29, 2016)

“Copyright NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. Reprinted with permission”

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