Tech Insurrection

Tech Insurrection

Smart cities, says Anthony Townsend, will be forged by geeks, activists and civic hackers through bottom-up technological innovation.

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Sprawl’s Hidden Subsidies

Sprawl's Hidden Subsidies

The answer to sprawl isn't more regulation, says Pamela Blais, it's fixing the endemic biases embedded in taxes, utility fees, municipal services and mortgages.

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Reinventing the Formal Garden

Reinventing the Formal Garden

Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden is branching out to stream reclamation and indigenous plants.

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A Distracting Doctrine

A Distracting Doctrine

Instead of fixating on the United Nation’s Agenda 21 as a threat to American liberties, conservatives should articulate fiscally responsible, market-driven policies to address the very real challenges facing local governments in the United States.

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The Zimmerman Telegram

The Zimmerman Telegram

Chris Zimmerman's message upon leaving the Arlington County Board for Smart Growth America: Smart Growth is good for economic development, and other localities can benefit by Arlington's example.

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Rethinking Online Classes at U.Va.

President Sullivan

President Sullivan

By Peter Galuszka

Just two years after the University of Virginia weathered a crisis and the short-lived resignation of its president for supposedly not embracing online education fast enough, Mr. Jefferson’s school is taking a cautious approach about Web-based courses.

This is a good thing, despite the excitement over having thousands of distant students sign up for MOOCs, or large scale college online courses, and expect to instantly log on to all the good things universities offer with supposedly few of the negatives.

Although U.Va. does participate in offering online courses through Coursera, they are not for college credit and Virginia is not following the example of Georgia Tech which is offering an entire degree program via the net.

The Daily Progress reports that U.Va. administrators and professors are worried that it is too easy for unseen students to cheat on the courses – an important consideration due to U.Va.’s strict honor code. Other problems are the high dropout rate of MOOCs and the fact that they may be best suited for introductory courses because professorial classroom involvement is important for more advanced ones.

These views raise questions after all the hype about MOOCs, including many posts on the blog. A special irony is that just two year’s ago, U.Va.’s highly capable and popular President Theresa Sullivan was forced to resign in Board of Visitors putsch led by chairman Helen Dragas supposedly because of her lack of enthusiasm in embracing new technologies.

One well-known blogger wrote a gushy lead paragraph on a posting stating that “Helen Drags gets it.” Err, maybe not, because Sullivan was reinstated after a huge outcry within the U.Va. community and after major, negative world media coverage.

Elsewhere, MOOCs do seem to be gaining some traction. One at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill noted that a Tar Heel course got 30,000 sign ups on-line.

But a University of Pennsylvania study showed that of 16 open online courses the school offered, fewer than half of all registrants even watched the first lecture.

So, it seems that MOOCs are going through a period of adjustment. And, they are politically charged since many conservatives, still angry over social changes in the 1960s and 1970s, see MOOCs as a way to overcome what they view as the overweening political bias of cossetted universities.

As the Daily Tarheel at UNC reports: “Rob Schofield,, director of research and policy development for the left-leaning think tank N.C. Policy Watch, said though MOOCs have many positive aspects, there are drawbacks.

“This problem is especially worrisome in the current political environment in which far-right politicians are doing everything they can to de-fund public schools and universities and turn them into on-the-cheap education factories,” he said.

Luckily for the Old Dominion, the University of Virginia is evaluating MOOCs with its eyes open.

The City of Great Places

Belden Street

Belden Street

So, here we are in San Francisco, in the heart of the land of fruits and nuts. We’re  planning to do a lot of the usual tourista things — take the boat to Alcatraz, bike to Sausalito, visit the Exploratorium — but your roving correspondent also will be applying a keen eye to the human settlements patterns of one of the United States’ most remarkable urban experiments.

San Francisco and nearby Silicon Valley comprise the most economically productive region in the U.S. (with the possible exception of Manhattan, although I regard the New York financial industry as a monstrous parasite that, due to Quantitative Easing, prospers at the expense of the rest of the country). San Francisco and San Jose (and environs in between) also happen to have the most expensive real estate prices (outside, perhaps, Manhattan) and the greatest income inequality in the country. Yet there is a remarkable divergence between Frisco and Silicon Valley. San Francisco hews to the Smart Growth ideals of higher density, mixed-use, walkable and transit-oriented human settlement patterns while Silicon Valley epitomizes sprawl. San Francisco is a tourist destination; Silicon Valley is not. I don’t know what all that adds up to but it is my framework for writing whatever I write about.

First observations: Arriving Saturday evening fatigued from a long trip, the Bacon farrow (farrow? Look it up.) checked into its hotel and set out to grab a meal before hitting the sack. There is a delightful little street near our hotel — Belden Street on the edge of Chinatown (see photo above). It really isn’t even a street, it’s more of an alleyway, too narrow for cars, that is lined with seven or eight restaurants. There is nothing exceptional about the street; it’s just one small example of the place-making that inspires love of this city. The alleyway is a visual surprise in that is represents a departure from the dominant street grid. Cozy and intimate in its human scale, it is a delight to stroll through.

Multiply Belden Street hundreds of times across the region and you get a place where people love to live and are fiercely loyal to.

– JAB 

The Richmond Elite’s Bizarre Self Image

richmond-times-dispatchBy Peter Galuszka

If one wants to know one source of Richmond’s malaise, she or he need look no further than the pages of the Richmond Times Dispatch, the mouthpiece of the city’s elite. This is especially true when one reads this morning’s edition. The inadvertent revelations about the city and what is wrong with its leadership are stunning.

Some background. Last week, Style Weekly, an alternative newspaper in the city, published a hard-hitting cover story taking a ground-up view of just how awful and neglected the city’s school buildings and system are. The coverage is very much contrary to the image Richmond’s “leadership” wants to sell about the city.

As the schools are mismanaged and families are abused, the Richmond elite, and the RTD’s editors are pushing other pet projects such as building a new baseball stadium in historic Shockoe Bottom to replace a crumbling one elsewhere and a chamber of commerce trip to Tampa by 159 “leaders” to learn how another city works.

Full disclosure: I am a contributing editor at Style but had no input to the school story. I did file two blog postings about the schools story and received a number of highly insightful comments by readers. The basic problem, as several put it, is that  the schools are a mess is that the middle class has moved to the suburbs, the upper class sends its children to private schools and many of those left aren’t in a position to join the debate are have much influence. One out of every four people living in the city is poor.

The TD’s coverage today is a wonderful blueprint about exactly what is wrong with the elite’s thinking. Examples:

  • The front page features a catch-up story featuring short 125 word essays written by seven city council members and nine school board members. Three council members, Reva Trammell, Michelle R. Mosby and Cynthia Newbill – didn’t respond, perhaps wisely. The story states that judging from the responses, “momentum is building” for “substantive change.” The council, the school board and the mayor are working together. Mind you, this is not based on any real reporting—such as shoe leather in the school halls. Instead, one gets to read what the leadership responsible for the horrific problems thinks about them – sort of like interviewing the foxes after they raid the chicken coop. An added extra: the RTD claims it sent out its questionnaires before Style published its story, sort of like backdating stock options.
  • Flip to the “Commentary” section and a piece by John W. Martin, CEO and president of the “Southeastern Institute of Research in Richmond and frequent opinions contributor to the TD. His piece is basically an extended apology for proposing a new stadium in the middle of the blooded ground of the country’s second-largest slave market – standard stuff. Especially bizarre is the art. It is a cartoon drawing of what appears to be an interracial couple happily walking near what could be a combined slave memorial ballpark. The man is white, blond, wears a Richmond polo shirt and is flipping a baseball. His arm is around an African-American woman in sports togs and carrying designer shopping bags. In front is an apparently mixed-race child in a Flying Squirrels baseball cap happily holding out his glove to catch the ball from dad. The effect is downright creepy. It insults the intelligence of the readers and hits a very sensitive raw nerve, given Richmond’s sad history of race relations and the TD’s historic support of segregation five decades ago when it really mattered.
  • Let’s move to the Op-ed page where there is piece by Nancy Bagranoff, dean of the University of Richmond business school and upcoming chair of the Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce. She was part of the chamber’s trip to Tampa to “learn” how they do it (while Richmond’s school buildings crumble). Her important takeaways seem to be that Tampa puts lights on its bridges, that it is a big port city, the region has distinctive personalities and that there are some universities there. Her conclusion: “I fell love with Tampa during out visit, but “I’m still married to Richmond.” Now that is extremely helpful.
  • Lastly, there is an impenetrable story by TD publisher Thomas A. Silvestri about several fictitious people discussing Tampa. Unsure of the point, I read the endline bio of Silvestri. It says he used to head the chamber and did not go on the Tampa trip because he’s been there before.

So, there you have it folks. Instead of real reporting, you have Richmond’s elite, some of whom are responsible for the problems, interviewing themselves. And that is a big reason why the city is in such a huge mess.

Virginia State/Local Tax Take: 30th in Country

alcatrazOne parting shot before the Bacon family departs on spring vacation to a destination very relevant to the smart growth…

The Tax Foundation has published its updated ranking of states where state and local taxes took the greatest share of state income in 2011. No surprise, New York ranked at the top with a grab of 12.1%. New Jersey, Connecticut and California followed in the next three spots.

Virginia ranked 30th. State and local taxes took 9.2% of income in 2011. That’s actually an improvement from the previous two years, when taxes took 9.6% (in 2010) and 9.7% (in 2009). The numbers should change for the worse when 2012 data is considered — that’s the year the McDonnell transportation tax hikes went into effect. Still, Virginia state/local taxes likely will remain within a narrow band of 9.0% to 10.% where, according to Tax Foundation figures, it has stayed since 1977.

Hopefully, we can dispense with the nonsense that Virginia is a “low tax” state that starves its public sector. We’re not out of control like the aforementioned big tax-and-spenders but we’re well within the middle of the pack, with very small percentages differentiating us from those immediately above and below.

– JAB

The Political Economy of Sprawl

sprawl by James A. Bacon

I spend a lot of time agonizing over questions that nobody else does. That’s largely because I’m one of the world’s few conservatives who supports the broader vision of the Smart Growth movement.* I have articulated a vision of Smart Growth that is based upon the principles of fiscal conservatism, limited government and free markets. But not many people are buying it.

The reason, I think, can be traced to the political economy of sprawl. Republicans, the party that nominally stands for fiscal conservatism and free markets but rarely governs that way, comprise the party of sprawl. (By “sprawl” I mean the scattered, low-density, autocentric pattern of development that prevailed during the post-World War II era.) Republican voters tend to live in communities born of sprawl, benefit from the subsidies and cross-subsidies that perpetuate sprawl, don’t want to change the way they live and don’t want to give up the subsidies.

Urban geographer Richard Florida drove home that political reality in a recent post on the Atlantic Cities blog. He started with the new data set created by Smart Growth America (See “Measuring Sprawl“) that measured major metropolitan regions on the basis of density, definable activity clusters, mixed uses, walkability and jobs/housing balance. His people then correlated the sprawl index with voting patterns. He wrote:

The connection between sprawl and conservatism comes through loud and clear in our analysis of more than 200 of America’s metro areas. Our correlations suggest that sprawled America is Red America, while Blue America takes on a much more compact geography. The Sprawl Index was negatively associated with the share of voters in a metro who voted for Mitt Romney in 2012 (with a correlation of -.44); and it was positively associated with the percentage who voted for Barack Obama (.43). These were among the strongest correlations in our analysis.

Other researchers have identified a tipping point — roughly 800 inhabitants per square mile — at which voting patterns tend to shift from red to blue.

While Republicans and conservatives have an eagle eye for certain types of subsidies — industrial policy for green tech (Solyndra), say, or a tax code riddled with special perks for special interests, or the massive welfare state that subsidizes poverty-perpetuating behavior — they turn a blind eye to the subsidies that benefit their own constituents. Thus Republicans support the mortgage-interest deduction that favors suburban home ownership. Republicans look askance at subsidies for mass transit (which their constituents are less likely to use) yet they are perfectly willing to subsidize new highways (which their constituents are more likely to use). They decry liberal social engineering when it comes to urban policy but happily support exclusionary zoning that keeps the poor “over there” — even if such zoning violates the property rights of developers who would freely and willingly build low-income housing.

The bottom line is that Republican and conservative politicians apply their free-market, fiscal-conservative principles selectively — when it gores their political foes — and ignore their principles when necessary to protect the interests of their constituents.

Don’t get me wrong. Anyone who knows me knows that I hold Democrats and liberals in even greater disregard. Their hypocrisy is boundless. White, upper-income Dems paint Republicans as racist even as they live in congressional districts with the greatest income disparity and attend the most segregated schools. (See here and here.) The latest case in point comes from Greater Greater Washington: “A new report says Montgomery County (Md.) schools are becoming segregated by income, race, and ethnicity and that ‘white flight’ is occurring in the lowest-performing schools. But officials deny that it’s even happening.” Montgomery County’s 2012 presidential vote: 71% for Barack Obama.

But the cause of truth, justice and the American way compels me to skewer not only my ideological foes but my erstwhile friends and allies when they veer from the path. And the Republican/conservative support for the sprawl-perpetuating policies veers far from the path.

I guess I’ll be a lonely voice for a long time.

* There are a few other voices. Check out the Smart Growth for Conservatives blog.

Blaming the Innocent and Exonerating the Guilty

Scuzzy girls' locker room in   Armstrong High. Who's responsible for inadequate maintenance?

Scuzzy girls’ locker room in Armstrong High. Who’s responsible for inadequate maintenance? (Photo credit: Style Weekly.)

by James A. Bacon

In the previous post, PeterG questioned the priority of “Richmond’s elite” of building a new baseball stadium for the Flying Squirrels over patching the city’s scandalously decrepit public schools. I share his skepticism that what the city really needs right now is a new stadium. However, I disagree with a core premise of his post, that “Richmond’s elite has done little for its public schools.”

In FY 2009 the City of Richmond schools spent $13,601 per pupil. Henrico County spent $9,369. Chesterfield and Hanover spent slightly more per capita. In other words, “Richmond’s elite” spent 45% more per pupil on Richmond city students than on students in “affluent” Henrico County. (I rely upon outdated statistics because I simply did not have time this morning to search for more recent ones. The per-pupil spending gap has not changed significantly since then.)

A better question is why “Richmond’s elite” tolerates suburban schools receiving so few tax dollars compared to their city counterparts.

An unspoken assumption embedded in PeterG’s commentary is that the problem in Richmond schools is insufficient funds as opposed to a misallocation or mismanagement of  funds. Is the failure to budget sufficiently for basic maintenance in a school system that spent $13,600 per pupil in 2009 (and more today) the fault of “Richmond’s elite”… or the school administration?

One last thing: PeterG fails to take into account the considerable resources raised by Richmond-area philanthropists to supplement public dollars spent in the schools. The Communities in Schools program, for instance, locates resources from city social services and non-profit programs to help students coping with the dysfunctions of poverty — lining up  food, clothing, tutors, mental health counselors, health care, transportation, and occasionally even furniture for children’s homes. “Richmond’s elite” is actually very involved in helping poor, inner-city minority kids.

I’m not persuaded that gallivanting off to Tampa in search of the great Tiki bar will help Richmond junketeers discover anything terribly useful for Richmond — I do agree with Peter on that. The Chamber of Commerce’s annual visits seem to lack focus and rarely come back with insights that can be applied locally. Instead of visiting Tampa, perhaps the group should have traveled to New York City to see what difference the charter schools movement there is making for minority kids and assess the applicability of charter schools to Richmond. That’s the kind of bold, non-incremental thinking the city needs.

The region’s political and civic leaders probably do need a cattle prod to think more creatively about the region’s challenges. But blaming them for the sorry condition of city schools is really too much.

“Where Is the Closest Tiki Bar?”

tiki_barBy Peter Galuszka

Often times, blog commenters really hit the nail on the head. This is the case with “Virginiagal2” who responded to my blog post earlier this week that Richmond’s schools are decrepit and crumbling, as Style Weekly detailed in a recent cover story.

They note that Richmond’s elite has done little for its public schools while chasing higher-profile and extraneous projects such as a summer training camp for the Washington Redskins and a new baseball stadium for the Minor League AA Flying Squirrels.

Schools? What schools?

Blog posts also note that NFL football star Russell Wilson, a Richmonder, stayed at private Collegiate school after his father saw academics as more important than sports and blunted maneuvers by Richmond public schools to recruit Wilson during his school years.

Part of the problem, as Virginiagal2 notes, is that Richmond’s select and self-appointed “leadership” ignores the city’s serious problems while they embark another pointless road trip to another city, typically in the sunny South, to gather ideas on how they should proceed with their (how to describe?) “leadership.”

Just a week or so ago, about 160 of Richmond’s “leaders” were bopping around Tampa, sampling its eateries and noting the watery views. The biggest cheerleader for these junkets is The Richmond Times-Dispatch, which is very much a propaganda organ of the area’s chamber of commerce. Its publisher Thomas A. Silvestri was chamber chair a few years back yet few commented on the potential conflict of interest. On the Tampa trip, the editor of the editorial pages wrote a supposedly cute series of reports in a “postcard” (ha-ha) style about the Tampa trip. Here’s one tidbit:

“About 160 Richmonders will spend three days sipping from Tampa’s version of youth’s fabled fountain. Where oh where is the closest tiki bar?”

I couldn’t have said that better myself. Next, I’d like to copy what Virginiagal2 had to say in response to my blog. She absolutely nails it:

“The cost of sending a kid to Collegiate is beyond a lot of young families. What do you think those Richmond families value the most – a sports team that has around 5,000 people attend games, or a good safe public school for their kids? The RTD has been shilling for the stadium for months – when’s the last time the RTD advocated for money for better city schools? Do you ever remember them encouraging businesses to partner with city schools? Advocate for vouchers, yes – advocate for baseball, yes – improve the overall public schools, no.

‘nuf said.

Bacon Bits: More Random Notes from a Fevered Mind

Before and after. Image credit: Richmond BizSense.

Before and after. Image credit: Richmond BizSense.

From beast to beauty. I have issues with Virginia Commonwealth University’s exploitation of its student population but I will say this: The university has done wonders for downtown Richmond. The latest case-in-point is the restoration of the old Broad Street trolley station from its hideous previous incarnation as the Richmond Glass Shop into space for the university’s renowned art department. Not only will the $7 million project house gallery space to showcase student artwork, a soundstage and a 6,000-square-foot research lab with prototype building machines, including laser scanners and plasma cutters, it will transform an eyesore into a thing of beauty. The transformation of downtown Richmond continues apace. Richmond BizSense has the story here.

Investing in public safety. The great recession battered city and county budgets, including spending on police, fire and rescue. Nerdwallet set out to find which cities did the best job of preserving spending on public safety. No surprise, Washington, D.C., the imperial city waxing fat on population growth and economic growth, led the country. Improved public safety no doubt helps explain the perception that the city is worth investing and living in. D.C. has 4,332 police staff per 100,000 residents, or one per 68.5 residents. Also ranked was Richmond with 940 police staff, or one per 45.24 residents. Nerdwallet did not consider the possibility that Washington, Richmond and other cities maintain large police departments because they need them more.

Transparent… but could be better. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) has released a report ranking states by the transparency of their public spending based on criteria such as user-friendly websites, searchable databases and downloadable reports, and the availability of information on state contracts and economic development studies. Indiana won the top score, and seven others rated A-. Virginia rated a B+. Frankly, I’m surprised it did that well. The open-data movement is making inroads across North America and Europe but I never hear it discussed here. Virginians need to hop on the bandwagon — opening up government data to the public will inspire all matter of creative applications that governments themselves could never imagine.

Boomergeddon, anyone? Bridgewater Associates, a Connecticut hedge fund, has warned that public pensions are likely to generate investment returns of only 4% annually on their assets in future years — not the 7% to 8% widely assumed. Public pensions have only $3 trillion in assets to cover retirement liabilities of $10 trillion; annual returns averaging 9% are needed to make up the difference without massive infusions of tax dollars. Bridgewater set up a sophisticated model to simulate many of the possible market environments to see how they would affect public pension resources. “In 20% of those scenarios, public pensions run out of money in 20 years. And in 80% of the scenarios, public pensions run out of money within 50 years,” reports America’s Markets.

If Bridgewater is even close to being right, state and local governments will be fiscally stressed for decades.

– JAB

Can Virginia Reverse the Stroadification of Rt. 1?

The Rt. 1 area under study. Click for larger image.

The Rt. 1 area under study. Click for larger image.

by James A. Bacon

People living along the U.S. Route 1 corridor in Northern Virginia seemingly desire contradictory things. They want better pedestrian and bicycle safety, they want mass transit. … and they want automobile traffic to flow faster. Alas, designing the corridor to move automobiles faster makes roads less safe, and it discourages the kind of development that would invite the higher-density, mixed-use development that would support mass transit.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, explores the dilemma in a thoughtful two-part series (Part 1 and Part 2on the challenge of re-developing Route 1. His solution, at the risk of over-simplifying, is to switch the perspective from designing the corridor for cars to designing it for people. Planners are scheduled to submit specific recommendations for the corridor by July. If they focus on creating walkable, transit-oriented communities, Schwartz contends and I concur, automobile traffic flow will improve as well.

A few years back, the Virginia Department of Transportation proposed reducing posted speeds from 45 m.p.h. but an uproar ensued. Apparently, too many people depended upon U.S. 1 as a commuter route and imagined that lower posted speeds would translate into lower actual speeds and longer commuter time. But lowering the speed is critical to achieving the goal of walkability, walkability is required to make mass transit economically viable, and viable mass transit is required to reduce the volume of cars on the highway.

The problem is that U.S. 1 fits the classic definition of a stroad, a street-road hybrid. The route started as one of America’s first national highways. But Virginia state and local governments neglected to control access to the highway, with the result that it became cluttered with haphazard development, cut-throughs, curb-cuts and stoplights. Functionally, in Northern Virginia, Fredericksburg, Ashland, Richmond and Petersburg, the highway became a main street. Yet it failed to fulfill the functions of either highway or main street properly. The lanes were too wide and the speeds too intermittently high to create walkability or the higher-end development that is drawn to walkable places. At the same time, Rt. 1 became so congested with local traffic that it failed as a highway.

At some point, the people of Alexandria and Fairfax County must decide whether they want Rt. 1 fulfill its destiny as a highway or a street. It cannot do both.

Rt. 1 should be easier to salvage in Northern Virginia than in points south. There is so much demand in the region for walkable, transit-oriented communities that private investors should be able to re-develop the low-value development that exists now at higher densities fairly quickly. Proffers and/or impact fees, sweetened by higher density allowances, should be available to pay for streetscape improvements to make the corridor more hospitable to pedestrians. Further, there is such a large volume of traffic that the corridor should be able to support mass transit.

Transportation planners could help by reallocating right of way, in effect converting the former in-name-only highway from a stroad to a street. Reducing lane widths from 12 to 10 feet would free space for bicycle lanes and make the “highway” easier for pedestrians to cross. Yes, narrower lanes would slow the peak travel speed of thousands of commuters to Fort Belvoir. But if the narrower lanes were accompanied by less automobile traffic, lower posted speeds could be offset by shorter waits at traffic lights, less stop-and-go.

All urban Virginians should follow the Rt. 1 experiment with great interest. If Northern Virginia can find a workable solution for the old Jefferson Davis Highway, there is hope for the rest of us.

More Virginia Families Choosing Cities, City Schools

by James A. Bacon

It has been the traditional pattern in Virginia, as elsewhere, for young people to move to core urban areas to live as singles and then migrate to the quieter, safer burbs with better schools when they marry and have children. That dynamic still is working but it is weaker than before. More young families are staying put in urban jurisdictions to raise their kids and enroll them in local schools, feeding the strongest population growth that many Virginia cities have experienced since the 1950s.

And that, notes Hamilton Lombard on the StatChat blog, is forcing many cities and counties to re-work their school enrollment projections and their capital spending plans.

Lombard displays the data in a way I have never seen presented before. The chart below (modified slightly for purposes of clarity) compares the number of births in a jurisdiction to the number of children who went on six years later to enter the school system in 2005. Jurisdictions to the left of the line, mostly urban city jurisdictions, saw a marked loss of school-age children. Localities to the right of the line, mostly suburban counties, had far more children enroll in their schools than were born there previously. The chart show the dominant post-World War II pattern of young families moving from the city to the burbs.

importers_exporters
That was 2005. Now look at 2013 below. What’s different? Well, around 2006, per capita Vehicle Miles Driven peaked — people began driving less. Smart Growth advocates suggest that the younger generation is less infatuated with cars and prefers to live in walkable communities with access to mass transit. Then in 2007-2008 came the real estate crash and the Great Recession. As Lombard observes, mortgage rules tightened and it is harder now for families to buy a house in the ‘burbs. People are staying put. Only one-third as many homes were sold in Virginia in 2012 as in 2005. The number of Virginia families with children living in rented residences has increased 15%.

The shift in school enrollments is marked: Urban core jurisdictions are exporting fewer families with children, and counties are importing fewer.

2013_jumbled

Lombard sums up the impact on school systems:

Elementary schools have been among the first to feel the impact of the change in growth trends. Most rural and suburban elementary schools have too much classroom space because fewer families have moved to their divisions. At the same time, many urban school divisions, after decades of shuttering schools, are reassessing their capital improvement plans so they have enough space for the increases in enrollment.

Bacon’s bottom line: There are several points to be made.

First, this data refutes the commonly held notion that most young families with the means to do so all will desert core cities and move to the suburbs when their children reach school age. Clearly, some young families are still making the move but more are staying. Whether this trend represents a fundamental shift in lifestyle preferences, a temporary effect of economic hard times or a little of both is hard to say. But the fact is undeniable: An increasing number of young city dwellers is growing, which is driving population growth in urban cores.

Second, it is good to see that analysts at the Weldon Cooper Center’s demographics research group, which publishes StatChat, are beginning to document this seismic demographic shift. If these insights get incorporated into the state’s official population projections, it will impact how dollars are spent in many areas, not the least of which is transportation. Kudos to Lombard for work well done.

Third, once middle- and professional-class families begin enrolling their children in urban-core jurisdictions in larger numbers, it could have a profound effect on how those schools are perceived. If the perception of inner city schools improves from dismal to not-so-bad, even more families might be willing to forego the suburban relocation. It’s way too early to say that that city schools have reached a tipping point but it’s not beyond the bounds of possibility.