What City Observatory did this week

1. Have we reached “peak Millennial”? One researchers argues that because new births peaked in 1990, today’s 26-year-olds represent the high water mark of a youth-led urban renaissance. But a closer look shows that’s not the case: the US Census predicts that we have a number of years until we’ve reached the top of the youth wave, demographically—and foresees a plateau, rather than a peak. Moreover, it appears that the preference among young adults for city living is increasing, which could boost their urban numbers even without a demographic swell.

2. Growing up in a mixed-income neighborhood can have serious benefits for children when they reach their adult years—and a new study reveals how previous research has actually understated those effects. A new paper shows that previous studies on the “Moving to Opportunity” experiment that gave public housing residents vouchers to move to lower-poverty neighborhoods had a hidden bias that suggested the benefits of moving were smaller than they really were. The real takeaway, though, is not about “mobility” programs per se, but about the importance of economic integration in general—as other research that measured the opposite dynamic, the growth of middle- or upper-income households near existing public housing, has shown.

3. Fact: College students in Detroit are more likely to stick around town after graduation than their peers in Austin, Texas. Does that mean the Motor City is winning the fight against “brain drain,” and Austin’s boom isn’t all it’s cracked up to be? Not really. It turns out that these differences have more to do with the kinds of higher education institutions in each city than the cities themselves. In some places, universities effectively function as export industries, producing far more graduates than their region can absorb, and shipping them all over the state, country, or even world. By looking at the numbers a different way—new local grads produced per capita—we can get a better handle on the “brain drain” story.

4. What would a well-functioning housing voucher program look like? In some places, tensions over the higher rents some housing authorities are willing to pay to try to improve vouchers’ pro-integration power have provoked a backlash. But differentiating rents by local markets may be key to using vouchers to create more mixed-income communities. They also highlight the importance of committing serious funding behind housing affordability efforts.

The week’s must reads

1. Who’s moving to cities, and who isn’t? The release of new 2015 county population figures has set off another round of demographic analysis about the changing profile of urban America. For two perspectives, check out Jed Kolko, who argues that the urban renaissance has been demographically limited; and Tony Dutzik, who says that the urban/suburban divide matters less than what demographic and lifestyle trends mean for resource and energy consumption—and sustainability. Look for our thoughts next week.

2. You often hear it in arguments against bike or bus lanes: If they’re so important, why do they look empty? David Levinson helpfully answers that question with some simple math and geometry. It turns out that even equally utilized car and bike lanes will leave the car lanes looking much busier—simply because each car takes up much more space than a bike (or, per person, than a bus!). On a typical block, a bike lane with one cyclist is getting about as much throughput given the space it takes up as a car lane with eight vehicles.

3. A new report from the Urban Institute uses a unique combination of data from credit reporting agencies and the American Community Survey to assess the credit situation of the nation’s renters and homeowners. The report, by UI’s Wei Li and Laurie Goodman, and entitled “Comparing Credit Profiles of American Renters and Owners,” clearly shows the impact of the housing bust on the credit standing of rental households. They report that 19 million current renters used to be homeowners, and that about a quarter of these lost their homes to foreclosure; the bulk of foreclosed former homeowners are between 36 and 55. The outlook going forward isn’t at all favorable: by their count, some 64 million renters have credit scores below 650, which is generally the threshold for qualifying for mortgage financing.

New knowledge

1. When do we have too much parking? A new report from Chicago’s Center for Neighborhood Technology says the answer is “now.” Sending teams out to parking garages in residential buildings built to the city’s legal requirements, CNT found utilization rates of just one parked car for every three apartments—and even less for buildings near rapid transit stations. Why does that matter? Building parking costs money and takes up space, which could be used to add more housing without taking up any more space. Ironically, for below-market housing, parking requirements can be especially onerous, even though their low-income tenants are less likely to even own a car.

2. What determines if someone moves to a big city? A new paper suggests that a big part of the answer is self-confidence. In part because highly skilled people are most able to take advantage of the wage premiums of cities, people who rate their own abilities highly are disproportionately likely to move to large urban areas. Unfortunately, that also means that high-ability people without that self-confidence are less likely to move. That gives those with the confidence to move early a boost in their careers, even over relatively more skilled people who didn’t move, or moved later in their lives. For more, see CityLab.

3. As economic segregation becomes a larger problem, a new report from Brookings (also covered in CityLab) shows that concentrated poverty is at higher levels than before the recession. The number of people living in high-poverty neighborhoods has increased by over five million, to about 14 million in 2010-2014 American Community Survey figures. Sun Belt and Great Lakes metropolitan areas were hardest hit, the Brookings figures show. And while concentrated poverty grew faster in percentage terms in the suburbs, overall levels of concentrated poverty remain much higher in city centers, with 25.5 percent of low-income people living in high-poverty neighborhoods there versus 7.1 percent in suburbs. These figures underline the importance of actively pursuing economic integration policies.

The Week Observed is City Observatory’s weekly newsletter. Every Friday, we give you a quick review of the most important articles, blog posts, and scholarly research on American cities.

Our goal is to help you keep up with—and participate in—the ongoing debate about how to create prosperous, equitable, and livable cities, without having to wade through the hundreds of thousands of words produced on the subject every week by yourself.

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