Where will people be living?

Peak Oil / Religion

David Brooks points to a new study from Pew:

“The Pew Research Center just finished a study about where Americans would like to live and what sort of lifestyle they would like to have. The first thing they found is that even in dark times, Americans are still looking over the next horizon. Nearly half of those surveyed said they would rather live in a different type of community from the one they are living in at present.

Second, Americans still want to move outward. City dwellers are least happy with where they live, and cities are one of the least popular places to live. Only 52 percent of urbanites rate their communities ‘excellent’ or ‘very good,’ compared with 68 percent of suburbanites and 71 percent of the people who live in rural America.

Cities remain attractive to the young. Forty-five percent of Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 would like to live in New York City. But cities are profoundly unattractive to people with families and to the elderly. Only 14 percent of Americans 35 and older are interested in living in New York City. Only 8 percent of people over 65 are drawn to Los Angeles. We’ve all heard stories about retirees who move back into cities once their children are grown, but that is more anecdote than trend.”

Read the full article here. (Thanks Bishop Kirk Smith for pointing me toward this article.)

The third point Brooks brings up is that people still have a desire to move to the Western states and cities (including Phoenix).

Brooks primarily focuses on the idea that city planners who are expecting an urban revival will probably be disappointed. But I’m not sure his argument that the suburbs will survive because lots of people don’t want to live downtown will come true.

Let’s assume at least for the moment that a coming energy crunch is going to be delayed by the global economic downturn – which will in turn lower the pressure on people to move out of energy costly suburban settings and into more efficient urban ones. Even with that, there’s still the issue of home ownership collapsing and more people deciding to rent instead. (American homeownership was recently at an all time high due to governmental programs that encouraged it. But it’s not clear that ownership is the best situation for as many people as now own. Unraveling that is going to push people into rental units.)

Additionally the study indicates that there is still a preference among a majority of Americans to live in the suburbs, but I’d be interested to see if the number of people who would prefer an urban setting is higher than the present number of people who live in an urban setting. The strong preference for the young to city living may indicate a cultural shift that is ongoing. (It may also represent the fact that it is the lower and lower middle urban class that are having families right now.)

I’ve been harping for years that the Episcopal Church needs to take these demographic shifts seriously. Maybe this study indicates we have a little more time than I thought, but I don’t think it indicates that we should be abandoning plans to restart urban parishes in favor of planting new suburban ones.

And how interesting that young people are looking to live downtown. We’re seeing that here at our Cathedral where we seeing large numbers of 20 and 30 year old parishioners and smaller numbers of baby-boomers and hero-generation people. What sorts of things does the Episcopal Church which is often found in urban settings need to change to speak to this change in our demographic?

The Author

Episcopal bishop, dad, astronomer, erstwhile dancer...


  1. Good conversation here-
    The elephant in the room is the cost of living in these places. I live in the city of Detroit (me and 2 other people)- we pay taxes that are easily double those of my friends who live in posh Bloomfield Hills, yet have nothing to show for it – understaffed police/fire, deplorable schools (the state took over the district in Dec), ancient libraries only open a few hours a week. We pay far more for utilities, car and homeowner’s insurance, and just about any service you can name. We’re not unlike Chicago, Cleveland and others here. (And yet, there are young people around…) I think more people would be interested in city life if these problems could be addressed-

  2. Thanks Chris. That’s a good point you make.
    But it leads to another criticism I’d make of Brooks’ article. He is assuming that cities will remain statically entrenched in the present form and function even though the demographic changes he’s talking about would significantly change the political makeup of city-life.
    Suburbs have the tax structure and services they provide because the people who chose to live there demand them. If a significant subset of that same demographic moves to the city, city life will change too. Look at how Manhattan changed as more families and young people moved back into the downtown area during the Gulianni administration…

Comments are closed.