What about regions that lack the young and well-educated?
There’s a flip side to the “creative class” trend — for every city at the top of the list there’s one at the bottom of the list for this demographic. Being on the bottom may have a profound effect on a city’s built form, but that doesn’t mean the city can’t successfully pursue smart growth.
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See the list below for metro areas with the least educated 18-34 year olds. They are mostly small urbanized places. Five of them are in California’s central valley, and the rest are in other parts of the South and Southwest, from North Carolina to Arizona. The built pattern in these communities is mostly sprawl, and they have tended to grow fast in recent decades. Since the housing crash, growth has slowed considerably. What growth has occured in these places in 2011 and 2012 has mostly consisted of single-family, auto-oriented housing.
The one town with strong growth now is Odessa, Texas, in oil country.
Changing the building patterns in these communities that offer little attraction for college-educated young adults will be a challenge. That’s too bad, because these are typically metro areas with relatively low wages, and sprawl tends to raise family transportation costs significantly.
Lancaster, California, is one example of how smart growth can take hold in a community without a strong “creative class” demographic. Lancaster is not on the list above, but it is similar in some ways to those cities. Lancaster is a small-to-midsize inland city in California. Its higher education facilities are paltry compared to the top “creative class” cities. Yet Lancaster rebuilt its main street and spawned a downtown renaissance in recent years (see the January-February 2013 issue of Better! Cities & Towns). The $11.5 million investment has yielded $273 million in economic output so far. The project was completed in 2010.
A primary thoroughfare in Lancaster, California, was transformed from a
dreary five-lane arterial to a premier public space, attracting mixed-use
development and people, and giving the city a new identity.
With some vision, these metros could adopt a cost-effective version of smart growth that makes use of a simple street grid or “complete street” transformations. Along the way, they may attract more college-educated young adults.