The article and report refer to 25-34 year-olds with a B.A. as talented, creative, etc., without any proof required other than the fact that their brains are young, that their credential being bought and paid for (rather than earned) allowed them to goof off for four years, and that they spent that time cultivating unique quirky tastes shared by 90% of their age-mates (craft breweries bla bla bla).
These cases illustrate some of the themes I've started to develop here about the geographic and generational differences in status-striving. The Gen X and Millennial subjects they're tracking are moving away from Establishment cities because the Silent and Boomer incumbents refuse to vacate the prime real estate and above-poverty-level jobs.
More broadly (see this post), materialist and career competition have become too saturated by Silents and Boomers, leaving X-ers and Millennials to pursue lifestyle competition instead. That will not only affect which cities they flock to, but the character of their lives once they arrive -- they will turn the place into one great big playground for lifestyle status contests, lots of drinking, and the occasional random drunken hook-up. Or, College: The Sequel (total run-time to be determined).
And they aren't picking just any old sub-Establishment cities but ones that are already growing at a fair clip, and are already and have historically been quite large in population. When they look for a city in the Northeast to take the place of New York or Boston, do they settle on Albany? No, it has to be the second-largest city in New York -- Buffalo. Feeling squeezed out of Chicago and Dallas in the Midwest and Philadelphia and DC in the east? Well, you could shoot for Wheeling, WV or Grand Rapids, MI -- but why not aim as high as you can (within your budget), and resurrect the Gilded Age empires of Pittsburgh and Cleveland?
Fortunately, nobody involved at the grassroots or the academic and journalistic levels has any knowledge of history, so what's to temper the enthusiasm for pushing Buffalo and Cleveland as up-and-coming boomtowns (at least among the Creative Class)? It's not as though they've already been through the over-hype and hollowing-out cycle before. But if you want more sustainable long-term growth, you'd have to settle for cities that are smaller, historically less important, and culturally less thrill-seeking. Off-the-radar cities.
On the whole, though, the striver boomtowns are not in the Rust Belt but in the Sun Belt, i.e. where mainstream America has already been heading for decades. There are now enough earlier transplants who can actually run a business and create jobs, that the Creative Class can play catch-up and jump on the Sun Belt bandwagon without starving and "living outside". Will the Sun Belt soon turn into the next Rust Belt? Impossible -- growth only increases, worst-case at a slowing rate, but there will never be a mass desertion of entire swaths of the country that had been over-hyped, over-built, and over-indulged.*
It comes as no surprise, then, that the cities with the greatest percentage growth in 25-34 college grads fail the test of egalitarianism outlined in this post -- not having a pro sports team. Only Austin passes (I didn't claim the test was perfect). That proves that they are not simply seeking refuge from the rising competitiveness and widening inequality that blight the Establishment cities. Otherwise they'd be heading to some place where it would never occur to the locals to allow their public coffers to be parasitized by a big-league team that could PUT THEM ON THE MAP.
Among the ranks of Millennial boomtowners, is there any awareness of how illusory all this rapid growth is? Let's ask one of them living in Denver:
“With lots of cultural things to do and getting away to the mountains, you can have the work-play balance more than any place I’ve ever lived,” said Colleen Douglass, 27, a video producer at Craftsy, a start-up with online classes for crafts. “There’s this really thriving start-up scene here, and the sense we can be in a place we love and work at a cool new company but not live in Silicon Valley.”
How can start-ups be thriving? You don't thrive until you're mature. All those dot-com start-ups sure seemed to be thriving in the late '90s -- what happened to them after that, I'll have to order a history book on inter-library loan, since I'm too retarded to remember.
Online classes for crafts, or where higher ed meets e-tailing. Two great bubbles that burst great together!
BTW, her Linkedin profile shows that she went to the University of Dayton, which I don't recall being very close to Denver. All the talk about youngsters choosing the cities and bustling city cores over the dull suburbs papers over the reality that these kids aren't shopping around at the urban vs. suburban level, but at the entire metro area level -- which city will maximize my number of likes and followers? She didn't choose downtown Dayton over an attractive suburb of Dayton like Beavercreek -- she wanted to ditch dear, dirty Dayton altogether.
Group identities that are constructed consciously by first-generation adherents who merely affiliate with a city will be weak, shallow, and fleeting compared to those that are inherited unwillingly by multi-generational descendents who are rooted there. The western half of the country has long been more plagued by vice and social decay than the eastern half, and its history of rootlessness provides the central explanation.
Another long established fact about urban growth and migration is that cities do not grow except by wave after wave of even greater fools pouring into them. City folk are so caught up in their status contests (whether based on career or lifestyle), that they forgot to get married and have kids. By the time their career is established, or their reputation on Instagram suitably impressive, it's too late to start. Cities have been fertility sink-holes ever since they began thousands of years ago, and migration from the countryside was all that fed their growth.
What will happen to these 30 year-olds when the contests over who's sampled the most esoteric food truck fare begin to get old? They won't have any family or community life to fall back on; everything up till then has been based on lifestyle status competition. They will face the choice between staying stuck on the status treadmill forever, or drop out in isolation, where they'll indulge their vices until they bodies and brains loosen into mush. Sadly, that will begin by the time they're 40, when the final relief of death is still very far away.
Gosh, you guys, what the heck. I hate to be such a downer, but all this mindless enthusiasm for urban cancer is not only getting tiresome, but by now disturbing.
* During a brief refractory period, the cheerleading reporter lets some sobering facts slip by:
Atlanta, one of the biggest net gainers of young graduates in the 1990s, has taken a sharp turn. Its young, educated population has increased just 2.8 percent since 2000, significantly less than its overall population. It is suffering the consequences of overenthusiasm for new houses and new jobs before the crash, economists say.
Good thing that Ben Bernanke ordered an anti-hype fence to be built around Atlanta, lest the overenthusiasm ruin other Sun Belt boomtowns.