The Met Council’s Wishful Thinking

With some fanfare, the Metropolitan Council issued its predictions on where within the Twin Cities metropolitan area population growth will occur between now and 2040.  Not surprisingly, the Met Council predicts that almost all future population growth will occur in the core cities of the metro area, with little growth occurring in the suburbs and outlying areas.

This prediction is not surprising, because it’s increasingly clear that growth in the urban core will be the only growth that the Met Council will allow to occur in the next 30 years.  The prediction will be self-fulfilling, based on the Met Council’s policy preferences.

 

For its part, the Met Council claims that it’s just responding to market forces.  The St. Paul Pioneer Press begins its reporting on the Met Council’s 2040 predictions with this paragraph,

Young “millennials” and the gray-haired baby boomers leading the so-called “silver tsunami” are rejecting big, outer-ring townhomes and looking for more modestly sized housing near transit, jobs and services.  For the seven-county Twin Cities area, population growth will be centered in St. Paul, Minneapolis and the developed inner-ring suburbs for the foreseeable future.

Unfortunately for the Met Council’s plans, the data on the ground indicate the exact opposite.  Demographer Wendell Cox has studied actual census data on where baby boomers live and discovered that urban core boomer populations dropped by 1 million people from 2000 to 2010.  Cox writes at New Geography that,

Within the five mile radius of downtown, there was a net loss of nearly 1,000,000 baby boomers, or 2 percent of the 2000 population (ages 35 to 55 in 2000).

Adding,

With the ongoing repetition of the “return to the city from the suburbs” myth, it is important to draw conclusions from the data, not from impressions.

Likewise, Cox’s colleagues at New Geography looked at the housing preferences of millennials back in 2008 and discovered that millennials are just like the rest of us, even more so,

One thing seems clear: Millennials generally lack the animus against suburbs that have been a major element of Baby Boomer urbanist ideology over the past few decades.  According to survey data from Frank N. Magid Associates, America’s leading entertainment and media research firm, young Millennials already reside in the suburbs to at least the same extent as members of older generations.  The Magid data also suggest that this residential preference is not likely to change as the Millennial Generation matures and “settles down.”  Once Millennials marry their firm preference is to live in a single-family home, and not in a typical urban setting of lofts, condos or apartments.  Almost half of “settled” Millennials (those who are married, many with children) own their home.   Only about a quarter are renters.

Young millennials may want an urban, transit-oriented life style, but so did I when I was 22 (Arlington, VA, Court House Metro Station.)  However, as this next generation marries and has kids, they too will move to those dreaded, single-family homes in the soulless suburbs.

The Met Council has based its entire planning scenario for the next 30 years on two premises that are demonstrably false.  Frankly, it doesn’t care about real data; it wants a dense urban core for a host of ideological and partisan political reasons.

Instead, the Met Council’s transit-oriented development policy is an exercise in wishful thinking: it seeks to create brave new world rather than merely accommodate the one the rest of us actually live in.

Cross-posted and comments welcome at Bill Glahn.