My Generation Chooses Urbanism (More Than Its Parents, Anyhow)

MLewyn's picture

While I was rummaging through some old files at my parents' house, I discovered two books that I thought were pretty interesting: the school directory for the boarding school I attended in the late 1970s, and the 1999 alumni directory for the same school. 

As a new urbanist, my first thought was: I wonder where people lived then? And what have they chosen today?   This was a pretty fancy boarding school so I figured its student body was a pretty good sample of people who can afford both urbanism and sprawl.

I decided upon a fairly limited sample: students in my graduating class (the class of 1980) whose addresses could be ascertained for both their school years and 1999 (by which time they were in their late 30s).  I used about half the alphabet (A-K) and found 78 alumni.  To simplify the inquiry, I divided addresses into cities and suburbs: a pretty simple division for older northern cities with small city limits.  (For small towns and suburb-annexing cities like Charlotte, I looked at Walkscore.com to see which addresses were more urban and which more suburban)

Not surprisingly, I found that the overwhelming majority of my classmates (65 of the 78) lived in suburbs of some sort in 1980.  But a big chunk of those 65 had defected to urban life by the time they grew up: 21 of the 65 now lived in cities (or downtowns of small towns).  On the other hand, 7 of my 13 urban classmates had defected to suburbs of some sort.  On balance, the sample was much more urban than their parents: 27 of the 78 now lived in big cities or small-town downtowns, up from the original 13.

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