Growing Cities and Affordable Housing: The Effects of Rapid Urban Development
More than 80% of Americans now live in cities, but as our urban areas continue to grow, the effects of rapid urban development can throw a wrench into housing availability and affordability, school populations, and urban infrastructure. Bill Rohe of the University of North Carolina’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies and Carol Krinsky of New York University weigh in.
The human experience is increasingly defined by cities. Demographers have long observed a trend toward urbanization, both in the United States and around the world. In fact, beginning in 2008, for the first time ever, a majority of the world’s population started calling urban centers—rather than rural towns and villages—home. Just over 80% of Americans now live in cities (that’s as of 2010, the last time census data was recorded).
But while there’s definitely an ongoing urbanization process happening in the United States—with millennials, especially, finding their way to big cities—it’s no longer simply defined by the emptying of rural communities into urban centers.
“Here’s the thing about urbanization,” says Bill Rohe, director of the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill’s Center for Urban and Regional Studies. “The overall rate of urbanization—82%—has basically been stable for the last 10 years. What’s happening now is that people are moving away from some cities and into other cities. The real growth in urban areas is along the coasts and in places like Texas and Colorado.” As Rohe explains, the urban centers that are really booming tend to be the ones with the most tech industry jobs—Silicon Valley, San Diego, New York City, Boston, Austin, Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham—or places like Denver and Miami that boast quality-of-life-type perks because of the larger metropolitan area.
This same trend can be observed even within individual cities, as people move from the outskirts of cities back into city centers, what some call the “back-to-the-city” movement. This means that certain neighborhoods (especially those in the periphery) are losing population, while others, typically those in the city core, are growing. “For a long time, the way affordability was achieved was that you just kept building further out,” says Kristina Leach, design historian and founding board member of the Anomura Housing Society. “But as the roadways get more congested, people are questioning whether they are willing to spend three hours a day commuting. They are wanting to get closer to their jobs. And being downtown is just generally more fun as the urban core revitalizes.”
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