Immigrants, the “Young-Old” and Our Changing Cities

“Along with immigrants, Kotkin recommended going after the group he called the “young old,” the 65-and-older group who want to ride bikes around town and are likely to be involved in some kind of business venture. Census data shows these people tend to leave the core cities for laid-back, uncrowded, and affordable havens near nature.”

The above quote was in an article that came across my Leaf feed from the Idaho Business Review.  It’s attributed to Joel Kotkin, a fellow at California’s Chapman University.  He’s talking about growth and economic development in Boise but it could be about any city anywhere.

I grew up not far from Chicago and as  a kid I remember a vibrant, bustling metropolis.  Chicago’s success is easy to see in hindsight.  The city sits on a large navigable body of water that for a long time served as a geographic chokepoint.  The railroads had to wrap around the south shore of Lake Michigan since the lake was too wide and deep to span.  That made the City of Broad Shoulders a natural transportation hub.  Industry located there to take advantage of the connections.  That created jobs and people followed.

The abandoned grid.  Many south and west side neighborhoods in Chicago are largely abandoned.  Houses were once packed in tight on these blocks.  Now they're mostly gone.

The abandoned grid. Many south and west side neighborhoods in Chicago are largely abandoned. Houses were once packed in tight on these blocks. Now they’re mostly gone.

Today, Chicago just makes me sad.  Since 1950, the city has lost over 1,000,000 residents.  Part of this is due to flight to the suburbs.  The metro area is still growing and in terms of land use is many times the size it was in 1950, but now when I visit Chicago proper I see the wholesale abandonment that is on display virtually everywhere south and west of the Loop.  This isn’t really surprising, because in an Internet connected age location simply isn’t as important as it once was.

Cities large and small are struggling to adapt to this new normal and, increasingly, bicycles are a big part of the success stories.  Kotkin mentions immigrants.  I see it every day in Ogden.  Much of it is undoubtedly a matter of financial viability or access to an automobile.  Some of it is more and different.

The Young-Old in Boise's North End.  In terms of sheer numbers of bicyclists, this area is amazing.

The Young-Old in Boise’s North End. In terms of sheer numbers of bicyclists, this area is amazing.

The Young-Old in Pittsburgh's Strip District.  Whiskey tasting by bicycle.

The Young-Old in Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Whiskey tasting by bicycle.

The Young Old, St. George.  This growing city in southern Utah is building a future around active transportation and recreational infrastructure.

The Young Old, St. George. This growing city in southern Utah is building a future around active transportation and recreational infrastructure.

The same is true of the Young-Old.  It’s interesting to me that so many of my generation are rediscovering that bicycles are a great way to get around.  They allow us to live smaller yet simultaneously better.  We can be closer to the shops, restaurants and businesses we frequent.  They save us a ton of money.  We have had successful careers and done well and now we are flocking to communities that make it easier for us to move in this manner…cities like Boise or St. George, for example.  We are helping to determine winners and losers in a changing American landscape.

Perhaps most interesting of all is how Kotkin recognizes that these two groups that at a glance share little in common…immigrants and the Young-Old…are catalysts towards a new and better America.   I like that.  It gives me hope that our best days are still ahead.

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