Aerial view of suburb
Patrick Tuohey

Kansas City has been on a spending spree to try to attract millennials downtown, having been caught up in the now-discredited “creative-class” strategy originally promulgated by urbanist Richard Florida. Note that this is the same Richard Florida who the Kansas City Area Development Council paidto assist with its Amazon proposal, only to say later that cities felt like they were “being taken” by Amazon and should “think twice“ about wanting the headquarters. But Kansas City jumped in blindly as it tried to woo millennials, spending “probably in excess of a billion” dollars in an attempt to create a hipster paradise downtown. Is it working?

In a word, no.

Despite wishful thinking (and some fuzzy math) from boosters like the Downtown Council, millennials nationwide are choosing to leave cities when they decide to buy a home. According to a study conducted for Ernst & Young, a plurality of millennials, 38 percent, live in the suburbs. According to CNBC,

Among millennial homeowners, the suburbs are the clear No. 1 choice: 41 percent of millennial owners opt for suburbs over cities, small towns or rural areas. That’s up from 36 percent in 2016, Cathy Koch, EY’s Americas Tax Policy Leader, tells CNBC Make It.

It’s not just that they’re settling down as they get older, either, Koch says. When looking at the very same age group today compared to two years ago, there’s an increase in the share of millennials living in the suburbs.

“It was a surprise to me to see this generation increasingly choosing suburban locations to buy homes,” Koch says, but the trend makes sense: “The ‘suburbs’ may very well be smaller cities close to larger urban areas — these still afford the richness of city living (including employment opportunities) at maybe lower home prices.”

The focus on Kansas City’s downtown has not yielded a return worthy of the investment. We’re not attracting millennials. Even the tourism numbers promulgated by the city’s tourism board are suspect. Certainly Kansas City is suffering the same fate of many cities through no fault of its own. But the degree to which that city leaders have focused on developing streetcars, convention hotels, and the airport—while seemingly ignoring a years’ long spike in homicides—demonstrates an unwillingness to face reality.

 

About the Author

Patrick Tuohey
Patrick Tuohey
Director of Municipal Policy

Patrick Tuohey is the Director of Municipal Policy at the Show-Me Institute.