Thursday, June 28, 2012

Western New York Rising

Buried under decades of decline, the Economist reports green shoots in Buffalo and Rochester. The rebound is small compared to the overall malaise. Counter-trends have to start somewhere. More ironic demography in Buffalo:

One of the common things you hear from people is the phrase, "The young people are moving away." If our metro is so much like a repelling magnet, where are the young people seeking refuge locally?

Buffalo, of course.

To find the accompanying data, I used the Census Bureau's Profile of General Demographic Characteristics: 2000 and the Profile of General Population and Housing Characteristics: 2010. The first chart shows the median age of each county subdivision as listed by the Census. This means that there are not any villages listed below, but purely towns and cities.

As you can see, Buffalo (highlighted in purple in the righthand chart) is the only subdivision to become younger. A fair argument would be that -0.4 years is not very much. You could argue that Buffalo might not look like it is getting that much younger at all. Many of the places bordering Buffalo are under three percent, such as Amherst, Tonawanda (Town), Cheektowaga, and Lackawanna.

But wait a second, what's the median age in Buffalo again, compared to the rest of the county?

Oh yea, 33.2 years old. Who's close? - No one.

Like Cleveland, the overall story is shrinking city. There goes another decade down the brain drain. Also like Cleveland, there is hidden brain gain. The former narrative is receding, the latter one increasingly assertive.

The resident cynics and cranks are quick to dismiss the data as wishful thinking. Worse, the silver lining will somehow allow us ignore the doom and gloom desperately in need of repair. We must be vigilant or the status quo apathy will win the day. Instead, brain drain anxiety runs amok. Buffalo will remain a loser unless we aggressively promote bicycling and prove to recent graduates that downtown is cool.

Those in the know already realize Buffalo is cool. Rust Belt Chic, not Creative Class chic, will abate sprawl and put the city back on the national map. That's how I explain Buffalo, the urban core, getting younger.

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