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C. Briem

People choosing communities based on their different personal preferences and changing life situation... new trend? There was this fellow named Tiebout. Oh, never mind.

Jonathan Potts

If the fortunes of cities and suburbs rise and fall cyclicly, then the challenge that cities face--and not many have demonstrated they are up to the challenge--is managing decline as it occurrs. That means cutting services and the size of government as needed, until the tax base grows again to justify expansion. Instead, cities like Pittsburgh have tried the opposite, which is to grow the city. (The recent stories out of Youngstown offer the counter example.)

If the nation's biggest population cohort is prepared to return to cities, but will do so only if taxes are low in comparison to where they live now, then cities like Pittsburgh, with high debt and unmet infrastructure needs, are going to find themselves in a bad position.

This reminds of a discussion I got into over at another blog over whether it is a good idea for the Pittsburgh school district to try to dramatically increase enrollment. (The discussion was sparked over the "Pittsburgh Promise" plan.) A huge influx of empty-nesters would be great for an urban school system. They would pay school taxes but exact nothing in return.

Mark Rauterkus

Here are a number of RUBs with this story at it might transfer to Pittsburgh's market.

1. The empty nesters are wooed by lower property taxes,
1A: We don't have lower property taxes until we return to the land value tax. These folks are going to want to upgrade the fixtures and elements in their homes. But, the upgrades will bring HIGHER taxes.

2. better public transportation,
2A: We've got a major scare (FUD) with PAT now. They'll cut 40 to 60-percent of their services soon. That might hit harder in the burbs, but it will NOT be something to bank upon for a move to the city either. Our public transportation hit is bad. I guess if you live by the T, you might be safe. But, ending all night and weekend service is on the table.

3: to be closer to city-dwelling children.
3A: We don't have many city-swelling children. Folks flee the city when they've got school aged, and middle-school aged students.

But, I feel if we put this as a priority, the grandparents would come back to follow their youngsters. We have had this with 2 grandparents in our family. My parents moved to North to be near my sisters. My mother in law moved next door to us to be near our kids. It is a driving factor. But, we don't have the glue to keep the families as our school experiences are so frail.

Sam M


No. The fact that people are optimizing their utility by moving to places that they like does not amount to a trend.

But does the fact that an enormous (and enormously wealthy) demographic block appears to be changing how they measure their utility amount to a trend? Or at least something worth watching? I don't know. The New York Times seems to think it might:

"WHEN developers talk about who will buy all the high-end condominiums that they are building or planning to build in Manhattan, empty nesters invariably make the list. And since the oldest baby boomers turned 60 this year, more and more of them are becoming empty nesters, in many cases with more disposable income than their parents had before them."

Hmmm. "More and more" sounds kind of like a trend. But you never know. Perhaps we will let someone from a think tank decide:

"William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution in Washington, said people like the Greers are at the leading edge of a baby boomer trend of 'young seniors' with grown children. (Baby boomers are generally defined as people born in 1946 through 1964.) 'Especially as they reach early retirement, as in ages 50 to 55,' Mr. Frey said, 'baby boomers will be testing out areas like New York for the longer term.'"

Which is kind of what I said.

Again, people moving to where they want would fit in very nicely with Tiebolt's ideas. But I think that it certainly makes sense to identify trends within that analysis. Clearly, at some stage, there was a trend that saw families moving out of urban centers into the suburbs. It seems to be continuing in a lot of places. Although there are some countervailing forces. I suppose you either find that interesting or you don't. I do.

I am from the neighborhoods that come up in the story- Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, Queens. They are seeing really big demand from people looking to escape Long Island and Long Island taxes.

Youngstown has come up and what they are doing is a really smart thing. Take a hard look at what parts of the city will pay for themselves in terms of services and concentate on them, Shrink to the core and then grow as demand grows.

Another thing that came up in terms of big attractions in the story was that a lot of people are intersted in continuing education. Colleges in Manhattan do a huge business in continuing ed and I think it's a big thing that draws people. It seems like Pittsburgh's schools are all about walling themselves off from the city.

C. Briem

I'm not quite sure where you are on this Sam. you seem to be arguing against yourself. This is all part of a series of research at Brookings on how downtowns (as in CBD's in particular) are becoming more of a residential destination of choice. If that does not fit the case exactly for New York, you have to realize Manhattan is pricing itself out of all normal budgets. There was also a well popularized piece of research out of UVa last year about how cities are seeing disproportionate income growth vis a vis their suburbs in many markets.

if you put some credence on this 'return to city' trend then I am a little unclear why you discount that it will affect downtown. You can go look at assessment records for who lives in some of the big down downtown condos now and it sure looks to me like a lot are people living in FL.. Seems to imply a correlation between that demographic and preferences. but that is an aside.

elderly migration is a big topic and nothing new. For Pittsburgh I have tried to measure and characterize the flows in and out. For the flow between Pittsburgh and Florida it is unsurprising yet interesting. Young elderly are the ones moving to FL but we get a fair number back.. typically 20 years older. How that affects all of this can be important.

If I were to put my take on this.. the 'trend' as it were is not any change in how people choose to live in communities that match their needs/preferences... that is no more true now than the past. If there is a trend of returning to the city, it says much more about how the cities are changing, not people's preferences.

and I really may have to write something on the LVT for Mark. The impact of a split tax is more important downtown than most anywhere else in many ways. I would point out that his (1A) command is contradictory as it is written. The point of a LVT is that the improvements on parcels would not result in higher taxes. That is kind of the point. It's a little like tax abatement for all home improvements. He may be arguing over the long haul but that's unclear.

In a nutshell-- the people profiled in the Times can not afford to live in "downtown" NY.

The couple looking in Bay Ridge should look at Sunset Park, which rocks. It's housing stock is great. http://www.sunset-park.com/magazine/00006.html

Sam M


In what sense am I arguing against myself? I never said that there are no empty nesters in Cranberry. I never said that none of them have any interest in moving to the city. Yes, I do question how many othere are. BUt more importantly, I question how many want to move into $1.2 million condos in the central business district. And I have often wondered whether it might not make more sense to get them to move into existing neighborhoods (into houses with yards and garages and lots of space) that are not in the CBD but pretty darn close.

Most importantly, I wonder whether it is so clear, so OBVIOUS that a huge wave of these people is set to crash on the Golden Triangle, and that the only way to prepare for that wave is to SUBSIDIZE the consruction of 1,500 high-end condo units rather than, say, letting the market test the waters with a few hundred of them.

You say: "if you put some credence on this 'return to city' trend then I am a little unclear why you discount that it will affect downtown."

Well, I don't discount that fact. All I am saying is that I am not really all that clear HOW MUCH it will affect downtown. BUt I am not really obliged to figure that out. Because I am not spending everyone's money to put this plan into effect.

Know who is obliged? Planners who are spending public money in that regard.

Know any who are willing to say who is going to move into the subsidized units, where they will come from and how much they might be willing to pay?

Doesn't seem like that much to ask.

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