An article at the Urbanophile gives us a helpful graphic explaining the old and new “Donut” conceptions of the city. In the “Old Donut,” we have an impoverished central city with a ring of thriving suburbs around it.
An example of that model appears in this graph, which shows the percentage of adults over 25 with college degrees in the Charlotte, NC metro area in 1990. The x-axis is distance from the center of downtown.
There is a lot of buzz amongst urbanists and demographers about millennials’ preference for urban areas. We’ve found evidence to support this narrative in some areas of Virginia, including indications that they may be staying even after having kids.
But there’s also a lot of talk about baby boomers retiring and moving into cities. Maybe this is happening in other parts of the U.S., but it’s certainly not the case in Virginia. On the contrary, they appear to be heading for the hills. In fact, despite Forbes Magazine naming Virginia its 5th best state to retire in, Virginia does not appear to attract many retirees in general.
Virginia is aging quickly, as can be seen on the map below. From 2000 to 2010, the median age in the Commonwealth rose from 35.7 to 37.5. In some localities, it rose by as many as 5 or 6 years in just that 10-year period. But most of that is due to a gradual decline in birthrates, not older people moving in. From 2000 to 2010, migration accounted for only a slight (1-2%) increase in the population of age groups around retirement age, and that increase was smaller than the state’s overall growth rate.
Urban areas import the young and export the old, the theory goes, or went. For decades, young people have come to Virginia’s urban areas to go to university or work, often moving out again when their children require more space or education, or when they retire. But, since the mid 2000s, a demographic change has slowed the conveyor belt of movement in and out of cities. More young families are staying in Virginia’s urban areas to raise their children and enroll them in local schools, fueling the strongest population growth many of Virginia’s urban areas have experienced since the 1950s.
Though many young couples in the past have started families while they lived in urban areas, a good number would move to suburban counties before enrolling their children in school. In urban school divisions such as Arlington County and Fredericksburg, fewer than 60 percent of children born in 1999 showed up in first grade in 2005. The large number of young families moving into suburban school divisions caused many more children to enroll in first grade in counties such as Spotsylvania and Chesterfield than were born there six years earlier.
Today, many parents are staying put in urban areas, thanks to stricter mortgage regulations that make it hard for buyers to get a loan, and a difficult labor market that makes it hard for anyone to be sure of a job. One-third as many homes were sold in 2012 as in 2005 in Virginia. During the same period, the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey shows that the number of Virginia families with children who live in a rented residence has increased 15 percent.
During the past decade major changes in population growth patterns were evident in Virginia. In contrast to what happened in the early 2000s housing boom, when many counties on the edges of urban areas became some of the fastest growing in the country, when the boom ended, these same “exurban” counties declined in population. At the same time, after decades of stagnation and decline, urban centers began to grow again during the early 2000s.
One way to understand these dramatic changes in where Virginia’s population grew is to analyze home construction activity because it is often one of the most reliable indicators of population and economic change.
During the early 2000s, Virginia underwent a real estate boom that mirrored what was occurring nationally in the wake of broadening access to mortgages. In Virginia, home prices rose in many parts of the state during this time, but particularly in larger metro areas. In Fairfax County, for example, the median home sale price more than doubled from $220,000 in 2000 to $545,000 in 2005. Rising home prices forced many home buyers to move farther out from urban areas for affordable homes in the exurbs.
Change in the Number of Homes Constructed 2000 to 2005
There is too much in this report to cover in a single blog post, so for this one I’ll give a brief summary of Chapters 1 and 2, which cover the basic information about these areas and give an overview of the population change over the last decade.
“Metropolitan statistical areas” were developed as an official concept during the 1940s, when “it became evident that the value of metropolitan data produced by federal agencies would be greatly enhanced if agencies used a single set of geographic definitions for the nation’s largest centers of population and economic activity.”
A metro area, as it’s more commonly called, is an “area with a large population nucleus together with the adjacent communities that have a high degree of social and economic integration with that nucleus.” Metro areas contain at least one urban area of 50,000 people or more. In 2003, “micro areas” were introduced as a new concept. These new, smaller areas are essentially the same as metro areas, they just contain a population core of 10,000-50,000 residents. These areas, while not even covering half of the U.S. land mass, cover the vast majority of the population in the U.S. – 84 percent of people live in a metro area and another 10 percent live in a micro area.