Umbrella Man - flickr user Major ClangerThe Census Bureau makes it official:  center cities are hip.  According to a new analysis of data from the American Community Survey, over the past decade the number of 24-35 year-olds with college degrees grew by over a quarter in America’s central cities.  CEOs for Cities, which commissioned the analysis, has this to say:

In 2000, young adults with a four- ­year degree were about 61% more likely to live in close- ­in urban neighborhoods than their counterparts with less education. Now, these well- ­educated young adults are about 94% more likely to live in these close‐in urban neighborhoods.

Having graduated from that demographic myself, I’m old enough to remember when people felt like the city center had no future.  But now, downtowns are veritable magnets for the “young and restless” demographic.  Of course, not every young college grad chooses to live near downtown—yet in 36 out of 51 major cities analyzed, the growth rates for young educated folks were higher in the city center than in the suburbs.

Oddly, though, Portland was among the handful of cities where this wasn’t true.  And in Seattle, the city center just barely edged out the outlying suburbs in the growth rates for young college grads.

What gives in the Northwest?

  • Joe Cortright, the head of the firm that analyzed the data, points out that the close-in neighborhoods of Seattle and Portland started out the decade as remarkably well-educated.  In Portland, for example, the trend towards young, educated people flocking to the central city was well underway in the 1990s.  (Call it the Portlandia effect.)  In Portland’s urban core, about 58 percent of residents have a bachelor’s degree, according to Cortright.  Similarly, Seattle has long held the position as the nation’s “best educated city,” with more than half of all adults in city limits holding at least a bachelor’s degree. 

    So both Seattle and Portland started the decade with very high rates of young college grads in close-in neighborhoods, compared with other cities.  Portland’s core had about 22,000 in the “young, educated” demographic, and Seattle’s had about 29,000, according to Cortright.  In contrast, St. Louis had about 6,000, while Pittsburgh and Miami had about 11,000.  When you start off from a small base, even small increases can look impressive in percentage terms; but when you start with the kind of head start that Portland and Seattle had, a big absolute increase may not translate into impressive growth rates.   And it’s also worth noting that Seattle and Portland compete for brainpower with high-tech suburbs—many of which are starting to resemble the walkable, diverse neighborhoods that so many young folks have found attractive.  So even though the close-in areas in Seattle and Portland didn’t stand out in their relative growth rates, in absolute numbers both cities still attracted an awful lot of young educated folks—marking both cities as the sorts of places where the “young and restless” are looking to settle down.

    (And in case you’re a real stat head, the bottom of this USA Today article has an interactive table of the numbers for the top 51 metro areas in the country.)

    Photo of Portland’s Umbrella Man courtesy of Flickr user Major Clanger, distributed under a Creative Commons license.