These Little Town Blues Are Melting Away

By Sophie Clarke & Audrey Gross

Graduating college: one of the many milestones in life that feels impossible at times (finals week, anyone?). Once students graduate from college, finding the perfect home can feel even more impossible than a week full of exams. The ideal location for settling down used to be the suburbs: safe, clean and beautifully manicured–closely following the deeply rooted idea of the quintessential American Dream. Recent research, however, has revealed that this may no longer be the case. It is clear cities have gained huge popularity in post-grad plans, enticing Millennials with the appeal of constant, bustling excitement.

A study done by The New York Times reveals that “the number of college-educated people age 25 to 34 living within three miles of city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even as the total population of these neighborhoods has slightly shrunk.” This is reiterated in an article from City Lab from The Atlantic: “…in U.S. cities circa 2000[,] people started to move downtown…But among young college graduates—a key indicator of an area’s growth potential, in the eyes of urban economists—moving downtown became more the rule than the exception.”

Start Spreading the News, I’m Leaving Today

Mary Elizabeth Goodell, a 2016 college graduate, has moved to Chicago since graduation last spring. When asked about the process of deciding to move to the city, she replied with enthusiasm, “Didn’t plan on it, didn’t want to. When I did Wheaton in Chicago for spring break, I was hooked. There was a spirit to it. Like nature was speaking to me, except it was the city. I know it’s not for everybody, but this is a perfect place for me to be post-grad. All my friends are super-super close. It’s very much like aimg_3694 collegiate environment: everybody is packed together and there is an energy and a fun. I have the margin in my life for that!”

Silas Helm, a current college student who grew up in the city of Chicago, was asked what he thought the pull was for people in their early twenties to live in an urban center. “I think it’s a really beautiful picture of youthfulness. There’s a lot of energy, opportunity and things to be involved in. I think with social media we have a heightened awareness of how to interact with the city– you see more coffee shops, you hear about more events, and you see how other people are doing it and so you realize you can do it too. I think being part of that energy is really exciting for a lot of people.”

Silas went on to explain the sentiment of many of his friends when thinking about finding a community after college, “It’s obvious that a lot of families live in the suburbs so it can be hard to find a young community for graduates. It’s harder to find people to resonate with when you live in the suburbs, I’ve heard from lots of my friends who are experiencing that.”

Another city-dweller, Ben Nussbaum, recent college graduate, commented on the positives that he finds from living in a city, focusing on how genuine and eye-opening the environment is. “[The best thing about living in Chicago is] two fold–one has been the community, through my church and just living near them. It feels a lot like the community I had in college. The second is exposure to the ‘dangerous cities’ of Chicago and actually seeing the real people that live in them. Families walking to school and people opening up their businesses. For as much as the good and beautiful we like to see in videos and photos, there is also another side that is tragic and very real that I’ve just been thankful to be exposed to.”

If I Can Make It There, I’ll Make It Anywhere

However, despite these positive responses, it remains to be seen if the lure of the city is a permanent trend for post-grads. According to new census data presented by The Washington Post, there has been a greater uptick in “housing in the exurbs than in the heart of dense cities”. This is because the exurbs, while still out of the suburbs, is cheaper and newer than city living. Across the board, it appears that college graduates are looking for an affordable, but new experience.

Yet as the article from The Washington Post says, Millennials are still “opting for cities over suburbs at higher rates than their parents did.” Many individuals speculate that the desire for urban living among younger generations may be attributed to the recession and its lasting effects on finances and security–as housing and transportation is cheaper in the city.

I Want to Wake Up in a City That Doesn’t Sleep

img_2881Nonetheless, there was something apparent in the voices of our interviewees when talking about the exciting lure of the city–beyond a mere financial necessity. When asked if she would want to stay in Chicago long-term, Mary Elizabeth stated, “About a month into living here, I knew I didn’t want to leave anytime soon. I was putting down roots and really, really loving it. Initially the idea of raising a family here seems crazy, but I am meeting more and more people who are doing it.”

When asked the same question, Ben responded similarly: “I love living in the city and I want to be committed, as if I am planning on living here long term. I really do feel and believe that I will be living here long term because I realize the ways that I come alive and learn when I am living in the city–more than my years spent in the suburbs. It is realizing those things that make me want to continue living in the city and building roots here.”

Silas confirms that: “I’m planning on living in a city for the rest of my life. I’m just energized by the city and its diversity. I value interacting with a bunch of different worldviews and learning to spend time with and understand people that are different from you.” Later on in our conversation, Silas did note that while many of his friends were planning on moving to the city after graduating, most of them did not plan on living there long term.

Many questions remain to be answered about the urban vs. suburban trend. Could the values of Millennials that largely differ from past generations lead to a new American Dream? It’s clear that the city holds anticipation and potential, but is it only in short quantities?

It’s Up To You, New York, New York

The Washington Post may shed some light on why these questions remain unanswered as it explores the financial restraints that impact the ability of college grads to remain in the city long-term. “We’ll have to wait until there’s a generation of kids that come out that have opportunities to make decisions based on their preferences rather than just constraints… That’s not yet happened, either. But, it may be starting to happen.”

The American dream, once characterized by neatly manicured lawns and white picket fences, may slowly be evolving to include the diversity and energy found in urban centers. But until the economy is repaired from the effects of the recession and Millennials have the security to pursue their preferences, we will just have to wait and see if city life is, indeed, the new way of life.