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Where Cleveland young and brainy want to be

Marc Lefkowitz  |  08/06/15 @ 11:00am  |  Posted in Vibrant cities

Cleveland is in the midst of an impressive moment of “brain gain” even as the overall population declined 17% in the first decade of the Millennium.

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A new report from CSU’s Center for Population Dynamics aims to look past population to what they argue are more salient indicators of growth. The Center, led by Senior Researcher Richey Piiparinen, mapped adult migration into Cleveland. Charting who moves in and out, they predict, challenges the narrative of a city in a straight line of decline.

They argue that an influx of college-educated residents should be seen as a blood transfusion. They dub the positive growth of college-educated residents moving into Cleveland the “fifth migration”—a counter trend to the “fourth” or move out of cities to the suburbs. On the whole there were an estimated return of 87,000 residents with college degrees in the past three years—it is overshadowed by the larger outmigration and yet contains an important subtext on Cleveland.

The new urban immigrants bring with them resources—not only higher wages but their collective wealth to invest and stabilize the real estate market and knowledge to tap for improving the city.

Cleveland’s college grads stabilized the overall adult population and led to the fifth largest per capita salary increase in the nation in the post-Recession. The picture isn’t all rosy. Keeping child-rearing aged adults in the city is still a challenge—many flee for the suburbs.

The bottom line—the migration pattern of Americans at this point isn’t as binary as it was in the 1970s when economic powerhouses like New York and Boston along with the Industrial Midwest experienced a larger share of population loss.

In-migration gives life to a real Cleveland comeback

“Since the 1990s, the crisis has abetted,” the report states. “Clearly something important has changed from the worst days of the urban crisis.”

In considering the public policy interplay, the report states that Millennials are more likely to live in dense, highly urban neighborhoods than their Gen X cohort from a decade ago. Gen X, though smaller in number, still has a role to play in the revitalization of existing neighborhoods. While Cleveland’s Gen X has since fled in great number for the suburbs, their preference for “urban” neighborhoods is actually higher overall than Millennials.

Again, the policy implications of a brain gain happening in Cleveland are in how to retain this cohort of Millennials and make decisions that continue the momentum for the next decade. Done well, public policy will deliver more college educated adults living in Cleveland proper than the suburbs by 2025, the Center predicts.

“Such a paradigm shift is significantly altering Cleveland’s landscape as we know it,” they write.

Which Cleveland neighborhoods are the educated “fifth generation” choosing to move in to? Downtown Cleveland led the way with 1,950 new college grads taking up residence fueled by an office conversion boom. Periphery neighborhoods like Kamm’s Corner and Edgewater saw a strong influx to an already solid base of degree holders—the aging, white far western areas of the city are getting more diverse as a result.

So too the southside areas like Old Brooklyn and the near east side of Cleveland—from Asia Town to St. Clair-Superior—are emerging as examples of neighborhoods where college grads are in-migrating with young Latino and Asian adults also moving in. Detroit-Shoreway, Ohio City and Tremont are becoming less diverse perhaps a sign that gentrification is coming to already invested areas where access to the Lake and major attractions have fueled a decade of double digit growth of white college grads. The periphery areas like Edgewater, Collinwood, Old Brooklyn and West Boulevard are becoming more diverse, too, which is an interesting emerging story.

Are you a producer or a consumer?

But the Center really thinks we need a strategy that focuses on what they call “producer city” areas—drawing a stark contrast with the current economic development strategy driven by a pattern of “consuming” amenities. Certain areas—the Superior Warehouse District, downtown, the area known as Cuyahoga Valley, Tremont, Hough, Kamms are attracting thousands of new knowledge workers migrating here because of a job with global enterprises like The Cleveland Clinic. Beyond their wealth, their knowledge is a resource, the report states.

“Just as the field of ‘placemaking’ is continuously used to grow ‘consumer city’ migration into select neighborhoods (think arts as revitalization tool in the Gordon Square Arts District),” the report concludes, “a parallel intervention of ‘people-making’ can be done in ‘producer city’ neighborhoods, with the intent to leverage knowledge migrants beyond their purchasing power, but rather through networking components that can ‘ripen’ the region for internationalization, knowledge transference, and industry innovation.”

Cleveland is also emerging as a more patchwork city than it was with the big ethnic enclaves of the 20th century. Whites are moving into traditionally black neighborhoods like Hough and Glenville (albeit by the hundreds) and blacks are moving to traditionally Latino neighborhoods (Old Brooklyn) and white areas (north Collinwood) and this shift promises to change the way we think about Cleveland as more people choose to live in its many, varied neighborhoods.

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