In order to survive every city has to convince a new generation of people to call it home. And increasingly, that process is becoming a competition among a few “hip” cities, according to William Fulton:
Kids move to where they want to live and then look for a job, not the other way around. They’re drawn to a small number of hip metro areas (D.C., San Francisco, Seattle) and smaller cities (Boulder, Colo.; Missoula, Mont.; Palo Alto, Calif.) around the country and hip employers follow them. The result is an upward cycle of talent and jobs and business growth in the fashionable places, and a downward cycle everywhere else.
Fulton mentions only in passing that this is happening in the suburbs and middle America, where young people have fled to bigger, hipper places. Still, that’s illuminative for a city like Provo. It means it’s absolutely essential for Provo to lure new young people, entice students to stay, and incentivize talented up-and-comers to put down roots. Ignoring this issue is like living on top of a gold mine, but working at McDonald’s to make money; it wastes the most obvious and valuable asset.
Though Fulton is discussing “hip young places,” he’s really talking about very long term economic vitality. As he points out, millennials are going to sustain cities for the next two generations, so getting more of them is important:
For the foreseeable future, the so-called millennials (currently ages 18-30) will drive both the housing market and the fast-growing innovation economy. It’s a huge cohort of about 70 million people. And as I mentioned above, they are gravitating toward a select group of metros and small cities.
But there are a couple of other facts that we don’t usually think about. Most people settle down by age 35, and usually don’t move from one metro area to another after that. And the demographic group behind the millennials is a lot smaller. Just like baby boomers, the preferences of the millennials will drive our society for two generations. They’re making location decisions based on their idea of quality of life. And they’re going to make all those decisions in the next few years — by the time they’re 35.
Fulton stresses that time is running out, but that it is still possible to become a destination for the next generation of workers and families. Fulton goes on to mention the creation of “compelling places,” before arguing that cities can succeed:
And you don’t need the endless hip urban fabric of New York or D.C. to compete. You just need a few great neighborhoods for people to live and work in. For most cities, that’s an achievable goal.
Provo — with its great jobs numbers, arts scene, old buildings, etc. — is in a much better place to accomplish this than other cities. But in order to do that the city needs to recognize that there’s a lot more to do and not a lot of time to do it in.