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Millennials Continue to Leave Big Cities (wsj.com)
50 points by jseliger 27 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 56 comments



That’s because most cities have poor quality of life, and once you get out of the twenties, you realize quickly that some breathing room, a safe neighborhood, and a single family home with a yard make you much more happy than having access to a large number of bars, restaurants, and other city amenities that you visit less and less. Most millennials are in their thirties now and as they start families they’re realizing high-density urbanism isn’t all its cracked out to be.

Of course what I’m saying isn’t universal and I think there’s a middle ground with cities that retain low-mid density zoning, but it’s my general observation nevertheless.


> That’s because most cities have poor quality of life

And the ones that don't have incredibly expensive properties.

Of course, if you live in the bay area there's a good chance you're exposed to both expensive prices and a poor standard of living, which I'm sure explains a lot of the horrifying experiences I read about here.

Personally, I live in Cambridge MA. Despite this city being the world's top biotech hub, the part of Cambridge I live in is incredibly family-friendly. I don't see needles or crime unless maybe you get close to the "main street" but that's a 15 minute walk away. The cars drive slowly, there's kids and parks everywhere. I would love to raise a family here. But, a single floor in a 3 family building (which was working class housing just a few decades ago) now sells around a million bucks. It's just not feasible, so my wife and I rent and will probably move out to buy somewhere else if prices don't go down in the next few years.


> > That’s because most cities have poor quality of life

> And the ones that don't have incredibly expensive properties.

This, so much.


Spot on. The difference in noise pollution, air quality, crime and drug needles laying around is staggering! Having found a wife, neither of us likes going downtown anymore. We have our own sauna and an apple tree!

The only downside is, electricity is way more expensive.


I always used to joke:

"Sure, there is a very high murder rate, pollution, noise, crowds, high taxes, drug use, mugging, random assault (Baltimore), but look at all the restaurants!"


I had a co-worker who lived in Baltimore, and he'd act like he was shocked that co-workers from the suburbs thought Baltimore wasn't a good place to live or visit. Then he'd also tell us stuff like "when you visit my house, don't park more than 2 blocks away because your car will probably get broken into once the sun goes down", or that he found a homeless guy sleeping under his porch one morning, or how people on the sidewalk would pretend to mug you because they thought it was funny to scare people. He'd lived in cities his entire life though, so he thought that kind of stuff was normal, and he came from a wealthy family and lived in one of the better parts of Baltimore.


Yeah...we definitely have our issues. For me (early 40's now) it's also about proximity to work as well as restaurants, night life, arts, etc.

But it truly is frustrating in many ways. Broader tax base needed to fund infrastructure isn't there. Lower-income residents can't pay for it. Developers and big players get breaks in order to lure/keep them. So us moderate-income residents pay the high taxes and it still isn't enough to fund what's needed.

Add to it the fact that at the state-level, many residents (and their elected representatives) seem willing to just let the whole thing fall apart rather than deal with it. It's really disheartening. Still bitter that they canceled the planned metro addition that had been in the works for years and had a ton of federal funding secured.

At least it's still cheaper than DC ;)


Schools. Interurban schools are normally a microcosms and exaggeration of our societal problems, and as such not rated well academically.

My personal experience is moving to an old suburb that abuts the city while also having one of the best school districts in the Commonwealth and all the amenities of medium to high density (e.g. public transit and being able to walk to nearly everything I need.) I would like to know how they define "city" because I moved out of the political entirely, but well within the social and "infrastructural" city.


Not really any of those things for my wife and I. We enjoy city life. It comes down to cost entirely. Would be happy to live in SF, but the cost is ridiculous. Found similar paying work in a much lower cost of living area of CA, and left immediately.


I mostly want a commute of less than an hour. If I was 100% remote I'd move to the middle of nowhere.


It doesn't help that people in cities have voted to make it illegal to build more city. The nice bits all existed before cars. The stuff built since then is mostly parking and roads. As a result, only the wealthiest can afford to live in the nice part built before we decided apartments needed as much room for parking as for people.

I'm on the older side of millenial (mid 30's). I love cities. I love walking and cycling everywhere and having a low carbon footprint and being near interesting people and great food and being able to go to museums, etc. I think having more people in cities is a requirement for stopping climate apocalypse.

But after we had a kid we thought "where can we live where our kid can ride a bike and not die" and "where can we live where we can afford a home for three"? And there was... nothing. Suburbia was full of high speed arterials and only slightly less expensive homes. The core city was too expensive for a 2 bed flat.

I got a remote job and we moved way out. I have cows on three sides. It's boring. The roads are still dangerous, sadly, but the house was so astonishingly cheap we can consider it effectively worthless and still come out ahead.

Maybe in time we'll be eligible to live in DK, NL, etc. but until then the rural middle of nowhere is the only option that makes sense financially (if remote work holds up).


Most urban schools are highly stratified. Either cream of the crop or bottom of the barely and little in between. The best of schools have entry requirements and a waiting list. You're either brilliantly gifted or rich enough to afford the tutors to help get you there. If you're not in that group, academically, there is very few resources for you. The other inner-urban schools are just fighting to keep the heat on and have no time for you.

The city I live in has no school, beyond the single K-5, within the city limits. It's a chicken and egg problem through lack of political will. The parents petition the school board to open a middle and high school. They commission a years long study. Those parents eventually have to move because of work, increases costs, and lack of schools. A new set of parents petition the school board for more schools... ad nauseam

Our son has a longer commute to school than I do for work. He's lucky enough to be on a fast bus line. Him growing up in the city is orthogonal to most childhoods. He visits galleries and museums when he can. Has a lot more sympathy for the homeless. He's also gotten into the habit of skipping school lunch and going to the hipster cafe instead.

All this to say I know my family occupies special circumstances that allow us to live in the city. If any one of those changes I know we'd have to look at a suburban lifestyle.


The reason suburban districts have good public schools and urban ones have bad schools is that dividing students into school zones is a legal method of segregation. Cities and districts will intentionally build only expensive single family housing in good school districts to keep the riff raff out.


City schools usually have no address requirements. Our school even has students coming from the next county. They can get a commuter waiver because the parents work near the school. since businesses pay the same taxes it actually works out better for students and parents. The best schools have entry requirements that usually stratify by race and class.


A number of persons have been hit with large bills for sending their children to District of Columbia schools while not residing in the District. In many cases the city school administration did a really bad job of following up information, and the parents have been or will be cleared. In other cases, the parents really did live in Maryland or Virginia.

And then there is gaming addresses to get one's kid into the best non-magnet high school (Wilson).


It's interesting because in Atlanta the inner city is growing and the suburbs are becoming more like the city and creating walkable downtown areas. The new millennial ideal seems to be a revival of the main street and a rejection of both the strip malls and super urbanized downtowns.

If millennials really didn't like the urban lifestyle then wouldn't prices be dropping instead of staying high?

I was recently in a coffee shop in Ypsilanti, Michigan that was indistinguishable from one in Brooklyn. I think more and more people are realizing they can keep the things they want from trendy metros and move to places like Raleigh, Salt Lake City,Austin,Atlanta,Boise ,Dallas,Ann Arbor in exchange for lower costs and less traffic.


> If millennials really didn't like the urban lifestyle then wouldn't prices be dropping instead of staying high?

A million times this. I don't want to (and can't afford to) pay for the ultra luxury downtown destination living experience. But urban living is more than luxurious downtown destinations.

I want my day-to-day trips (bringing kids to school, going to the grocery store, going to work) to be safe and accessible without a car. Just starting there implies a lot about the built environment, and your stereotypical suburb just can't offer that.


Why do you want to go without a car so badly? I get not wanting one IN the city (did it for several years myself), but outside of the city driving is not bad at all.


It's not really the end-all-be-all, but it's a matter of personal preference that I would like to go without one if possible.

Having grown up in the deep suburbs of a car-dependent city (including having a car to myself for a few years in high school), it basically comes down to this:

(a) I don't like driving and I'm bad at it.

(b) I don't want my kids to grow up like I grew up: with no friends in walking distance, nowhere to hang out in walking distance, ultimately bored and only spending time on the internet as a result. By the age I had a car to spend time with friends on my own terms, I basically had no social skills to speak of.

(c) Driving cars just feels bad to me. Like, from an environmental point of view. I know it's not sustainable for the earth in the long-term, so it sucks feeling like I am reliant on that technology.

Again, it's all personal. But having lived both without a car and completely car dependent, my optimum for quality of life is living a car-optional lifestyle, where the car is only used for the occasional luxury (e.g. a weekend trip out), not for day to day necessities.


I want to chime in here too, because I am from a similar place - deep suburbs where having a car is a necessity. Only difference is I still refuse to pay to live in an inner city. I am counting on the current renaissance of suburban cities to continue, where these smaller towns are embracing walkability/bikeability. My dream is to live in a little suburban town where I can actually walk and bike to important places, and only go into the big city when necessary. It seems like we are getting there, slowly!


I thought I'd weigh in here too. I assume we're talking about driving in the suburbs (i.e., not road trips or the country.)

- Car commuting is awful. Terrible use of time, bad for the environment, stressful, etc. Any other method is preferable for me. I WFH now, and actually slightly miss my old bike commute.

- Overall driving is a hassle. Getting in the car, backing out, parking it, walking from the parking spot to the place. Much nicer to just walk straight from door to door (unless it's really hot or actively raining.) It's a minor thing, but once I got used to not driving most of the time, I started noticing it.

- Driving is stressful for me at least. Just the idea that if I make a minor mistake or miss something, I could kill or maim someone, or even that I could cause serious damage to someone else's property. And traffic is constantly crazy now in places I've driven, so you really have to be on high alert. I prefer to avoid it.

- Can't drink or get stoned. Each party has to have at least one DD, which puts a damper on things if you're going to a bar or whatever.


> Just the idea that if I make a minor mistake or miss something, I could kill or maim someone, or even that I could cause serious damage to someone else's property.

I always felt this stress, but living a pedestrian lifestyle really opened my eyes to it. When you're a car, every car is a risk sure but ultimately a collision is just an "accident" and most accidents aren't that bad.

When you're a pedestrian, every distracted driver could be the end of your life. A collision means certain death if the car is going fast enough.

A lot of my preferences on urbanism have come from realizing that the more convenient you make things for people in cars, the more dangerous and inconvenient you make things for the people outside cars.


> outside of the city driving is not bad at all.

Driving is getting awful anywhere near major metro areas, even the midsized ones. Every year seems to add another minute or two onto my commute due to the increase in traffic. I'm even commuting in the against traffic, meaning from near the city core to the suburbs, and it's borderline miserable. I can tell that things are much worse in the other lanes.

I don't blame people at all for wanting to forego driving. Population growth is clearly outpacing infrastructure capacity.


in addition to GP/sibling's reasons:

(d) I enjoy the activity of walking or biking or the relaxation of reading or sleeping over driving a car most of the time

(e) cars are expensive (average TCO is $8k per year). That's multiple vacations per year, for me.

(f) riding in cars isolate me from others around me in a weird way. Society has partially adapted to this by talking about cars as if they were animate objects

(g) parking lots are bundles of frustration for me with multiple people and vehicles constantly in conflict

very much echo GP/sibling in wanting day-to-day trips to be car free. Maybe <10 trips per month via car.


Also, every drive is a missed opportunity for a bike ride, one of life's great pleasures (for me at least)


> Why do you want to go without a car so badly?

Car ownership (if you mostly just commute/shuttle kids) is not all flowers and roses. There's insurance, accidents, maintenance, parking, fueling, cleaning - not to mention the whole purchase + resell process that can take months.

That's assuming you like driving. I'd rather do better stuff on my commute or simply not commute at all (WFH).


There are many reasons. Mostly, cars make walking and cycling far worse or impossible. In the US, cars are the leading cause of dead children.


Because they’re money pits.


> If millennials really didn't like the urban lifestyle then wouldn't prices be dropping instead of staying high?

Articially inflated / bubble pricing.

Recently we were moving and received significant "incentives" including multiple months of free rent.

My thoughts are that this way they can keep the sticker price above a certain threshold.

And that keeps out people that make below the 3X rent minimum that's calculated using the inflated sticker price.


> If millennials really didn't like the urban lifestyle then wouldn't prices be dropping instead of staying high?

Some absurd percentage of the real estate in Atlanta is owned by investors. I don't think prices are an accurate indicator of millennial preference right now.

> I think more and more people are realizing they can keep the things they want from trendy metros and move to places like ... Atlanta ... in exchange for ... less traffic.

Atlanta has some of the worst traffic in the nation; in the top five last I checked.


The trend holds up in other metros too. People get priced out of the nice parts of the inner city, move to the suburbs and turn it into a miny version of the city.

Atlanta has terrible traffic but some of the other metros I listed do not. I should have written and/or.


Exactly! For me, realizing that I can have what I want from the city in a small suburban town was a huge shift for me. I moved way outside of a large city to a much smaller town, but I'm right downtown now. When I lived "in the city" I could walk to anything. Now I can walk to bars, grocery stores, a movie theater. There's not much there, and I really hope the little downtown revives more, but it's all close, and it's got cool old brick facades, etc.


A house down the street from where I grew up costs $650,000 for 1500 sq ft on a sixth of an acre. Meanwhile I was offered $55k with 2 years experience. There is also a massively crappy public transit system that lets me commute 4 hours/day to work my 8hour/day job, or I have to buy a car as well. How is the math supposed to work out?

I moved out of the metro area and have been much happier for it... Sure jobs are harder to find, but when I started getting offers they actually paid a livable wage.

That was my story 7-8 years ago. I could probably move back and make really good money, but the quality of life difference is atrocious and homes only got more expensive.


Ya, here's my story:

When I moved to a rapidly expanding city from my small town, some 15 years ago, rent was pretty decent. Real-estate was on the rise, then took a hit in 2008, but has been rising ever since.

Rent alone has gone up like 3 times (my first rented apartment, which cost $500 / month, now goes for $1500 / month). We used to joke that who in their right minds would pay $1500 bucks a month, unless the apartment was a complete penthouse...these days you get a 300 sq.ft for that kind of money.

After college I landed a pretty nice job - but I could not shake off the feeling that I was throwing away money on increasing rents.

Doing some quick calculations, I found out that I would save roughly $20000 a year on moving somewhere smaller. My job involved travel, so it didn't really make much sense anyway.

So that's what I did. Moved away, and have saved soon close to $100k, which I use to invest.

I visit friends in the old city every two months or so - a long-weekend tour.

My younger brother is in a similar position, and it's next to impossible for his peers to get a foot inside the housing market, unless you come from resourceful families that can bankroll your first apartment. So from what I've heard, it's indeed become a "life-hack" to simply move somewhere cheaper, save like crazy, and then move back - cash rich.


Here's my paradox: The city i live in has a median 1BR condo price north of $500k, which I cannot afford, but i more or less have to live here because this is the hub of my field. I hate long commutes, so, I rent.


This! I had an hour plus commute living outside of Beantown when I first got out of college. I just don't want to do that again.

Also one of my friends just bought for the first time and he indicated it's expensive as hell. As a single person I'm not sure I want to get into that type of financial commitment when I have a sneaking suspicion the economy's about to collapse.


Similar for me. I think of renting as an investment as well - absolutely zero surprise costs and allows me to plan further out.

Not owning an (hopefully) appreciating asset means not having to maintain that asset. What’s the cost in time for buying and selling a home? I pay that financially to spend my time doing other things


Nothing wrong with renting, so long as you can sublet it, and you have rent control. Consider it an investment without all of the capital cost expenditures that come with a ownership. I have a coworker whose family member rented a one bdrm condo in downtown Toronto 20 years ago when she was attending university. When she left univ, she sublet it to another family member, and so on, and so on through the years. Thanks to rent control the rent has only increased a few hundred dollars over those twenty years. However, the she sublets it at current rental market value which pockets her $1000/month. Nice!


Oh, is that all you need? Just a cheap rent controlled apartment you picked up twenty years ago with a sublet clause?! I’ve been doing it all wrong


That's great! Your coworker's family member is breaking the law! You can't sublet for more than the rent controlled rent.


It's not illegal in Toronto. https://www.thestar.com/business/real_estate/2011/02/12/the_... My mistake. Sublet rental amount cannot be > leased rental amount. I didn't know that. Good to know. Does the landlord have recourse if this can be proved?

I'm surrounded by law-breakers then. https://www.kijiji.ca/b-short-term-rental/gta-greater-toront...


At least in SF, if you're caught doing it, you get the pleasant task of repaying all the excess payments back to the subletter.

It's rampant here in SF as well. I know a few folks who are getting 2-3x their total rent payment by renting out a couple rooms.


I must be very sick in the head because the thought of a single family four bedroom house 30+ min away from my work does not sound appealing at all.

I quite enjoy urban life and the tapestry of humanity that fills it.

Anywhere other than SF, NYC and maybe Boston and LA condo/house prices aren't too unreasonable imho.


Are you less than a 30 min walk from work?


I'm about 6ft and have a slightly longer stride than most folks, I'd say I could do it comfortably in about 40 minutes.

Depending on traffic lights and the such it's about 15 mins on the bike or train.


Does not seem surprising, cities are expensive places to live and millennials probably can't afford it yet.


Millenials are between 39 and 23 years old. I don't think it's useful to pretend that their earning capacity is what defines them as a group.


That is, in fact, one of the main arguments the article is making. Cities are too expensive, millennial are fleeing to less expensive suburbs.

Also because public schools in the city continue to struggle compared to their suburban counterparts, and millennial with children care about that.



Copy-paste from another thread, cause it's still relevant.

Urban environments aren't really "nice". For all I hear about the joys of urban living, as espoused by others, I haven't enjoyed it much. Public transportation is crowded and smelly. Fat people take half of my seat (not nice to say, but I'm not sure how else to put it). Things are small, which for a taller guy like me, is pretty tough. As in, every thing is tiny. Living spaces, shops, streets. Streets often have trash strewn on them, and don't smell particularly good. I have to keep one hand on my wallet. Sometimes, hobos get aggressive. Not as much as an issue for me, but I'd hate to be a 4'9" lady. Keeping pets is hard. Cooking food is hard. I didn't have kids, but those I knew had a hard time with them. Things are very expensive. It's loud. There's a lot of traffic. Some times (all winter and some times in summer), it's bad weather for walking. I guess I shouldn't be complaining, since I at least didn't see much in the way of human feces. This is not to say there aren't up-sides. I like the food, and there are interesting people. It's also much easier to find certain things; for instance, a few major cities still have serious "maker shops" with tons of electronic components. Smaller ones or sub-urban areas often can't accommodate them, as they are in low enough demand that serious density is required.

I like sub-urban living and empty green space. I can hardly blame people for moving out, if it's viable. The above applies differently to different cities; some are better, some are worse, but all have most of these problems in the urban core. Considering how expensive it is to live in a city rather than a suburb (especially if you're talking a similar amount of land), I don't want to pay more for less.


"nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded" -Satchel Paige.


That quote is attributed to Yogi Berra. You mixed up your baseball players.


Millennial here. I like cities...the spread of ideas and culture is fast. Concerts, coffee shops (to read in) and its easier to meet hardworking people in a city(i feel like most relatively young people stay in cities at the very least until they reach their goals)...and learn how to make money just like them. Suburbs to me are where people go wait to well...die and I don't mean literally. I lived with my parents for a year after finishing school in a really nice suburb I felt suffocated. They love it.

My old man always told me not to call things 'expensive' but to ask myself why I cant afford them (at the moment). If you aren't willing to make the money to live somewhere comfortable then just call it what it is: not a priority.

FYI im immigrant and did not start out life well off but I did have parents that are very no nonsense and honest about why and how people choose to live where they live and why. Most just want to be comfortable and that's O.K


I thought they just got there?


This was my immediate reaction. Haven't there been a lot of articles about the millennial rush to the city?


Nobody would stay in the city unless for the jobs. Sure, some cities are nicer, but not that many.




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