Tale of Two Cities

With much attention given recently to many great American cities losing population since the 2000 census, a recent posting in StreetsBlog by Angie Schmitt calls attention to the other tale of this story.  While overall population in numbers look like this for the following cities since 2000:

  • Baltimore: -4.6%
  • Chicago: -6.9%
  • Cincinnati: -10.4%
  • Cleveland: -17.1%
  • Pittsburgh: -8.6%
  • St. Louis: -8.3%

…signs within these city’s give reason for optimism.  “While many cities got kicked in the shins if you look at their overall populations, downtowns and their surrounding neighborhoods enjoyed a resurgence,” notes Schmitt.

  • Baltimore‘s downtown residential population has grown by 11.6% since 2006 and now provides living space for more than 40,000 people.
  • Chicago‘s Loop saw a 76% increase in inhabitants since 2000 and the Near South Side more than doubled in population over the same period (even as the number of jobs downtown declined by 60,000).
  • Cleveland‘s most central census tracks each gained 20% or more in population between 2000 and 2010.
  • St. Louis‘ central neighborhoods gained several thousand people in total.

And here in Pittsburgh, while an aging residency continues to contribute to an overall population loss, redevelopment efforts in many neighborhoods such as the East End, Lawrenceville, Southside and Financial District are seeing the arrival of younger professionals often employed in Pittsburgh’s growing health care, energy and education sectors.  Most of these projects are offering higher density living with easy access to transit systems, pedestrian and bike routes.  Rising cost of gas will likely continue to fuel interest in these type of living options.

Pittsburgh’s home values have also been steadily increasing between 3% and 4% annually, even during the financial crisis.  Forbes projects homes to continue to appreciate for Pittsburgh in 2011.  Slow and steady wins the race.

“Rightsizing” is also a growing strategy for cities.  Rather than filling every old building site with another building, planners are incorporating parklets, community gardens and other passive recreation options on an urban scale.  Cleveland is pushing this thinking to the next level with its “Re-Imagining A More Sustainable Cleveland” project.  Convened by the Neighborhood Progress in collaboration with the City of Cleveland and Ken State University’s Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative, the City is aggressively rethinking what comes next for its vacant land.

It is clear that much is happening that is part of a complex and exciting story for our nation’s great cities.  Changes in overall population are only part of that story.  Those of us witnessing the positive changes at the neighborhood level would agree that an urban renaissance is continuing with most believing the best is still yet to come.

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