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The Real Source of America's Urban Revival

Millennials, housing costs, and shorter commutes are the usual explanations. But a careful new study points to another reason young college grads returned downtown in the 2000s.
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Robin Capper / Flickr

Something strange happened in U.S. cities circa 2000: people started to move downtown. Not all people. If you look at the top 100 metro areas between 2000 and 2010, only two downtowns grew faster than their outlying suburbs in terms of total population. Two. But among young college graduates—a key indicator of an area’s growth potential, in the eyes of urban economists—moving downtown became more the rule than the exception.

From 2000 to 2010, more college-educated professionals aged 25 to 34 moved downtown than to the suburbs in 39 of the 50 largest U.S. metros. For 35-to-44-year-olds, the same held true in 28 of the 50 largest metros. This revival was true in the places you might expect, like New York City or San Francisco, and in places you might not, like Cleveland. It was true despite historical trend lines showing that, for the better part of a century, the wealthy typically moved one way when it came to cities: out of them.