The Urban Revival

Why are more people moving downtown than ever before?

If you’ve lived in Calgary over the last 10 years, the change of our downtown landscape has been unmistakable; if you’ve lived here longer you’ll know that residing downtown is a growing phenomenon. We’ve never seen anything like it.

What’s driving this shift?

Partly, that’s the way a city matures; redevelopment is inevitable. Neighbourhoods age and populations change. In Calgary, recent unprecedented growth has brought housing diversity and density throughout the city.

But there’s more to it than that. In the U.S. there’s been a complete reversal in where recently graduated professionals choose to live. Until 2000, people left college and headed to the suburbs. Generation Y (or millennials, born between 1980 and 2000) have reversed that trend. There are heading downtown in unprecedented numbers. 

In an article on CityLab.com, author Eric Jaffe digs in to examine what social factors are at play:

Those are the usual explanations, but with more available data and analysis come further ideas.

Urban economics scholar Victor Couture of UC-Berkeley and Jessie Handbury of the University of Pennsylvania set out to understand the precise reasons for the reversal. Perhaps we can extrapolate from their work to understand the enormous shift in Calgary’s urban residential growth?

Their research pins the return of downtown on a new fondness for service amenities: music venues, theaters, bars, gyms, and the like. Not the growth of these things but a fresh taste for living near them, a broad cultural shift that could make urban revival more durable.

Urban economics scholar Victor Couture of UC-Berkeley and Jessie Handbury of the University of Pennsylvania set out to understand the precise reasons for the reversal. Perhaps we can extrapolate from their work to understand the enormous shift in Calgary’s urban residential growth.

Their research pins the return of downtown on a new fondness for service amenities: music venues, theaters, bars, gyms, and the like. Not merely the growth of these things, but a fresh taste for living near them; a broad cultural shift that could make urban revival more durable.

“If this revival comes from a change in preference, then it could be a long-lasting phenomenon. We have ruled out various explanations based on temporary trends.”

- Victor Couture

Eric Jaffe’s article explains their analysis: “Couture and Handbury loaded up on tract-level population data from the 2000 census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey. Then they piled on stats about job location, home prices, household formation, crime, and service amenities. The last tracked local availability of and proximity to 11 types of retail and cultural establishments—rolling these metrics into a “consumption amenities index.”

The conclusion? Service amenities seem to play the key role in explaining urban revival, at least as defined by the return of the college educated to downtown areas.

What could the implications of this trend mean to Calgary?  That’s something for interested citizens, policy makers and planners to ponder.

Published
March 9th, 2016


Millennials are moving downtown for the service amenities.


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