Monday, July 10, 2006

Core City Is Magnet For Young "Movers"

The following commentary from The Commercial Appeal was written by Carol Coletta:

Every few months, the U.S. Census Bureau releases data on which regions, cities or suburbs are gaining or losing population. And each time, the so-called "losers" react as if the news were a death sentence.

This is especially true in our nation's cities, including Memphis, where, according to Census estimates, the population dropped 2 percent between 2000 and 2005. Often, our urban leaders throw their hands up as if helpless to change the course. But it doesn't have to be this way.

A recent survey commissioned by CEOs for Cities revealed that college-educated young adults (the demographic most likely to move in our country) are giving priority to place.

Place Is Paramount

In fact, two-thirds of this highly coveted demographic now tell us that the place they live is more important than the job they hold, according to the survey conducted this spring by The Segmentation Company, a division of marketing consultancy Yankelovich Inc. It makes no difference if they are male, female, married, unmarried, with children or without, the power of place reigns supreme.

At a time when Memphis is faced with a serious need for talented workers, the new freedom to choose by these young highly educated adults has flung open the doors of opportunity for urban leaders, if we'll only answer by responding to the desires of this group.

What does Memphis need to do?

The Needed Attributes

The study showed that despite what we all thought, it doesn't take much to make them happy. First and foremost, they want to live in places that take care of the basics -- that are clean, green, attractive and safe. Just like the rest of us.

Also high on the list of attributes they seek are qualities that let them live the lives they want to lead. A city that expects to attract and hold talent, then, must tout opportunities in all forms -- personal, professional, educational and social.

Not surprisingly, talented young people also want to live in cities they can be proud of. Where once status was conveyed by where you work, now it is conveyed by where you live.

Downtown As Magnet

And, increasingly, where young people live is in the heart of the city, as shown in our own Downtown, where 29 percent of the residents are in this demographic. By 2000, 25- to 34-year-olds were 30 percent more likely than other Americans to live in neighborhoods within three miles of the central business district. That percentage increased from 10 percent in 1980 and 12 percent in 1990. (Now we know who accounts for the resurgence of our inner cities.)

And in this latest study, they continue to express that preference, with 42 percent saying they want to live in downtown and 59 percent saying they want to live in a neighborhood near downtown. The vast majority -- 70 percent -- said they want to live in or near the city. Still, others prefer the suburbs and exurbs.

What To Do

So how, then, can Memphis leaders respond to the desires of this demographic? Five places to start are:

* Make sure Memphis delivers on the attributes college-educated young adults seek.

* Find ways to telegraph that opportunities are available here to young adults.

* Make Memphis obviously "plug and play" -- easy for newcomers to plug in to community life and a network of people who can help them get what they want out of life.

* Fill in the blanks about Memphis. Young adults have only the vaguest impressions about various cities, and it's important to help them get to know our city's assets beyond the obvious tourist attractions so often featured in ads and on postcards.

* Make it easy for young entrepreneurs to do their thing. Take a look at older neighborhoods that are being revitalized, and you will likely find young entrepreneurs who didn't know any better and couldn't be told otherwise driving the action. They put a distinctive stamp on the city, and they should be encouraged.


Building better communities is not a zero-sum game where suburbs win and Memphis loses, or vice-versa.

If the past decade and a half has proven anything, it's this: A successful Memphis will be a city of choice, with a wide array of housing options, be they Downtown lofts and condos, close-in older neighborhoods or roomy, sprawling suburbs.

And the recent boom in the nation's central cities showed us that if given the choice between clean, green and safe inner cities and suburbs, a significant number of people will come.

Suburbs will forever be a part of our country's landscape. With the right strategies, great cities will, too.

Carol Coletta of Memphis is president and CEO of CEOs for Cities, a national network of urban leaders speeding innovation in cities, and host of the nationally syndicated public radio show, "Smart City."


MR T said...

Carol must not be from Memphrica. There are four things that will keep people in not only Memphis, but Shelby County.

1. Controlling the crime rate.
2. Lowering property taxes.
3. Raising the bar on education.(that doesn't mean more money, it means fixing the educational system so that it delivers people with marketable skills)
4. Increase the number of jobs in the local job market.

Memphrica will soon become Detroit II. The metamorphosis has already begun. I read where over 50,000 voters had fled Shelby County in the past four years (whites).

Crime is driving people out and the leaders who are supposed to be dealing with the problem don't have any new plans. They keep trying the same failed stuff and getting the same results. (Remember the definition of insanity)

The schools suck. That's about as nicely as you can put it. Go to one of the inner city schools and hold a conversation with an "English" teacher. They can't even use good grammar and yet they are supposed to be teaching our kids. The kids come out axing querstions of the jerdge. What a screwed up product MCS turns out.

Taxes - damn they are going to keep going up because the leadership knows nothing but tax and spend. John Willingham is seen as crazy because he wants to install a payroll tax. No one listens to the other part about cutting a bunch of taxes so that the net result is paying less taxes. Wharton will raise property taxes for the third time if he is reelected.

Jobs - hmmm we'll be lucky if we can keep FedEx here.

Fayette and Desoto county are getting the best and brightest from Shelby County, not to mention those with the money. Memphis will soon become "that place where the airport and football stadium are located, and you can get a good meal at some of the restaurants if you don't mind taking your life in your own hands."

Watch the houses hit the market after the August elections when the democrats kick a little butt. I can hear it now, Warp fact 10 Mr Sulu, we're outa here.

LeftWingCracker said...

Well, what you fail to realize is that flight isn't just for white folks any more; middle-class African-Americans are heading for DeSoto and Fayette as well, leaving two classes of people outside the Poplar Corridor; the very wealthy and the very poor.

We are making some inroads; however, the city mayor's refusal to admit that there are any problems, especially with regards to crime, is accelerating the decline. Until he is no longer mayor and is replaced with someone SERIOUS about crime, we will continue to see this problem.

BraveCordovaDem said...

I agree with you to a large extent. Memphis does provide a certain ambience for young professionals in the downtown and near downtown areas which seems to be continuing to grow. We are fortunate to have natural resources to add to this with lots of green, a temperate climate, and a low risk of natural disasters (as long as the New Madrid fault stays calm). However, another trend that seems to be coming into play is a focus on neighborhoods, one that has yet to come to the Memphis area, at least in Shelby County.

While your focus is on young professionals, there is a backlash from others in neflected middle and working class neighborhoods. We are seeing rumblings from those neighborhoods in this area, typically those settled areas outside of the Poplar corridor, the Raleighs, the Berclairs, the Whitehavens, that are stuck between the fashionable urban communities and the suburbs. These are areas that have been neglected, not only by Herenton but by Hackett before him. These are also the types of neighborhoods that are waiting to be tapped by a potentially strong leader since their residents are feeling the sting of crime and declining property values.