American cities are on the mend. While the specifics vary from place to place, there are several key factors behind the revitalization of our cities. Three big factors are demographics, technology and economics.

Head count

The two largest generations in American history: baby boomers and millennials are both migrating back towards the core. Baby boomers are reaching retirement age and for many this means downsizing. The big house in the suburbs is less appealing now that the kids have left home. Also, mom and dad now prefer spending time going to restaurants or the theatre rather than doing yard work or home repair.

"The new economy is knowledge driven, value sensitive and place-oriented."

Millennials, on the other hand are moving back to the city because they want to be where the action is. As a generation, they are getting married later or not at all. They own fewer cars and they drive less. They are postponing home ownership and they are concentrating in walkable, transit served neighborhoods. And unlike prior generations, boomer parents like living near their kids.

Constant contact

Another big factor behind the revitalization of cities is technology. The birth of the internet and all of the new forms of instant communication mean the “death of distance.” It also means that businesses want to locate in places where people and ideas can easily connect.

In prior years, people followed jobs. But today businesses follow talent and because talented young people are clustering in major metropolitan areas, businesses are following them back downtown. One recent study by the non-profit group Smart Growth America found that more than 500 companies had moved back downtown between 2010 and 2015.

The new economy

Finally, the new global economy favors cities. The old economy was product driven, cost-sensitive and market oriented. It was primarily about making things. The new economy, on the other hand is knowledge driven, value sensitive and place-oriented. It is primarily about designing things. The manufacturing economy was driven by proximity to natural resources, but the knowledge economy is being driven by innovation, which is a cornerstone of cities.