Kansas City, Millennial Magnet?
In a previous piece, we examined some of the research dealing with millennials, where they choose to live and whether any associated growth will be long lasting. In a New York Times story claiming that millennials are seeking urban areas, a think tank called City Observatory listed the top U.S. cities and their population aged 25 to 34 who had a four-year degree.
If you only look at the close-in downtown neighborhoods, defined by the study as those “within 3 miles of the center of the central business district,” Kansas City saw an increase of 63 percent over the past 12 years. Compared to our peer cities, this is impressive. (See Table 1.) So supporters of using taxpayer dollars to subsidize development might argue their profligate spending is working.
|Table 1: Downtown Population; 25-34 with Four-Year Degree|
But the data about cities as a whole is not so positive. Of those same cities, Kansas City as a whole ranked last in growth of this sought-after population. (See Table 2.) The average population increase for this demographic in all 51 cities was 25.2 percent. Kansas City came in below that.
|Table 2: City-wide Population; 25-34 with Four-Year Degree|
City leaders have put their faith in an idea about urban millennials that may or may not be legitimate. In doing so they have diverted funds from projects and services throughout the city to build and maintain things downtown such as the streetcar and Power and Light District. But any subsequent population growth downtown is dwarfed by population stagnation elsewhere.
The argument over attracting urban dwellers is hotly contested. Regardless of who is right, Kansas City is not seeing much success, and economic development is more cannibalization than growth. Residents in the north, south, and east should be wary of sacrificing their own needs in favor of a downtown strategy that so far isn’t working.