Downtown Chicago’s boomer bust

Joel Kotkin, writing at newgeography, argues that the oft-reported back-to-the-city trend among empty nesters is a myth:

Perhaps no urban legend has played as long and loudly as the notion that “empty nesters” are abandoning their dull lives in the suburbs for the excitement of inner city living.

Only one city, Miami, recorded a net gain in the boomer population within five miles of the center, roughly 1%. Much ballyhooed back to city markets including Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco suffered double-digit percentage losses within the five-mile zone.

What are the implications of these findings? For cities, time to forget the long-anticipated “back to the city” trend among seniors as something that can save their downtowns. To be sure, there may be some ultra-affluent urban districts that may attract wealthy older investors and buyers, many of them part-time residents, such as Chicago’s Gold Coast and parts of Manhattan. In some elite Manhattan buildings, full-time residents constitute as little as 10% of the total.

A little further out from these hot spots, boomers are fleeing. The five-mile zone around the City Hall of New York lost about 20% of its boomer population in the past decade, while in Chicago the corresponding area lost 26%.

We know you love to hate on Joel Kotkin, but how about disputing his numbers instead? The choice of a 5-mile radius, a zone that differs radically between New York and Chicago, is a good starting point.

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