International Downtown Association Identifies Strong Growth in Live-Work Dynamic in Downtowns and Other Major Urban Employment Centers Across the United States

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A first-of-its-kind research report develops a new way to standardize downtown definitions across the nation’s 150 largest cities, quantifies the number of jobs in high-density downtowns, urban campuses and research parks, and spotlights the “dramatic and sustained” increase in residents living in and adjacent to these urban job centers. The report finds that the population of the 10 largest of these urban live-work areas grew by 17.2% between 2000 and 2010, almost double the national rate; urban centers are now competing on an equal footing with suburbs as preferred places to work and as choice residential neighborhoods.

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This report illustrates the resiliency and attraction of downtowns across the country, which have become the epicenters for entrepreneurial talent, capital, and residential growth.

Amplifying the remarkable revival of downtowns across the country, the International Downtown Association (IDA) today unveiled new, original research spotlighting the seismic growth in residents who live and work in or near the country’s largest urban, employment centers. The report, Downtown Rebirth: Documenting the Live-Work Dynamic in 21st Century U.S. Cities, documents how America’s 150 largest cities contain nearly a third of all wage and salaried jobs – almost 38.9 million jobs - in the country. The report was released at the IDA World Congress and 59th Annual Conference being held in New York City October 6 – 9.

The report illuminates the trends of diversification, densification, and adjacent residential revival of downtowns, anchor institution districts and research parks, many of which have evolved into thriving hubs of mixed-use activity over the last three decades.

“Until the first decade of this century, there was no systemic effort to quantify the magnitude of the downtown live-work renaissance, in part because the dominant urban narrative for so long had been the story of decline,” said IDA CEO and President David Downey. “This report illustrates the resiliency and attraction of downtowns across the country, which have become the epicenters for entrepreneurial talent, capital, and residential growth.”

The report should prove instrumental to downtown managers and civic leaders as they continue to lead the revitalization of downtowns across the country, diversifying their economies and land use, and restoring and enlivening public spaces.

“Thriving downtowns, town centers and anchor institution districts have become major engines for creativity, innovative industries and future job creation for the broader regional economies,” said Paul R. Levy, founding Chief Executive of Philadelphia’s Center City District, which authored the report for the IDA. Levy will present the report during a Conference Master Talk on Monday, October 7.

The report and further, detailed information can be found at: For a version of this press release with additional charts and graphs from the report, please download the PDF version to the right.

Downtown Rebirth focuses on the nation’s 150 largest cities and places based on their job numbers. Within these 150 cities are 231 commercial areas and other employment-rich “nodes”. The report showcases the magnetic pull of downtown areas as skilled, educated workers favor dense, walkable, transit-oriented places, and identifies significant trends:

  •     America’s 150 largest cities hold 30% of all jobs in the country and the 231 major employment centers within them contain 18.7 million jobs - 14.4% of all U.S. employment.
  •     12.9 million people – or 4.2% of the U.S. population - now make their primary residences within these major employment centers and within the one-mile radius that surrounds each of them.
  •     On average, the population of the 10 largest of these urban live-work areas grew by 17.2% between 2000 and 2010, while the U.S. population grew by only 9.7% during the same period. Most recent real estate data and population estimates suggest that this trend is continuing and accelerating in many cities.

“Until now, there has been no standard way to define the concept of ‘downtown’ across all major American cities or to effectively compare employment and population trends in a way that accounts for the diverse physical shapes of major employment nodes and their adjacent residential areas,” said Lauren M. Gilchrist, Manager of Research and Analysis for the Center City District.

Findings were based on 2011 Local Employment Dynamics (LED) data and 2010 Decennial Census data, the most recent years for which complete counts – rather than more recent estimates – were available to ensure geographic comparability. Prior research was limited to population trends and did not quantify downtown jobs that drove residential location choices, so there was no standard methodology enabling comparisons between cities and regions.

The analysis enables researchers in each city to document from which neighborhoods across a region workers are commuting each day, their highest levels of education, and who clearly benefits from downtown development, an invaluable tool for regional transportation planning.

Employment centers in the 150 largest cities largely fell into three categories: commercial downtowns and town centers; anchor institution districts (such as education, healthcare and research campuses); and office and research parks. Of the 150 cities, 92 (61%) had one dominant employment node; 31 (21%) had a dominant employment node plus a secondary one typically built around one or more anchor institution districts; 12 (8%) had multiple strong employment nodes; and, 15 (10%) had decentralized employment throughout an urbanized area.

Of the 231 nodes, 147 (63%) were commercial downtowns and town centers, 47 (21%) were urban education, cultural, healthcare and research campuses, and 36 (16%) were office or research parks.

The report notes that urban centers are now competing on equal footing with suburbs as preferred places to work and as regional, choice residential neighborhoods. Researchers found that:

  •     30% or more of individuals who work within 34 urban employment nodes across the country also live within these employment centers or within the surrounding one-mile radius.
  •     Five employment centers – Midtown Manhattan, downtown Chicago, downtown Washington, DC, Las Vegas’s major casino strip, and Rochester, MN – have live-work quotients in their downtown residential neighborhoods that exceed 50%.
  •     In many major cities, the residential population living in and within a mile of major employment zones is growing faster than the rest of the city, sometimes faster than adjacent suburbs. Between 2000 and 2010, nearly all of the most heavily populated downtowns saw double-digit population growth in and around their city centers, with Chicago doubling the residential population in its downtown core.
  •     Population growth in and within a one-mile area of the 10 largest cities for jobs grew an average of 17.2% between 2000 and 2010, while the national population grew by 9.7% during this period.

Additionally, while jobs in the country have been decentralizing for decades, and now average 0.05 jobs per acre nationally (or 34.1 jobs per square mile), 28 major urban employment centers have job densities in excess of 100 jobs per acre, while an additional 24 have densities between 75 and 99 jobs per acre.

The data further show that within each employment node in the top 10 cities for jobs, 63% of all residents 25 years old and older hold at least a Bachelor’s degree, and 30% hold a graduate or professional degree.

Census estimates and anecdotal evidence further indicate that downtown population numbers and jobs will continue to escalate amid an improving economy.

“As long as energy costs remain high and demographic, cultural, and development trends favoring cities continue, the resurgence of downtowns and anchor institution districts is likely to grow stronger,” Levy said. “Sustained economic growth requires focused place management, competitive tax policies, entrepreneurial talent, capital, smart local governance, workforce quality, and good global connections.”

“This report should start a conversation,” added Downey. “It serves as a guide to those who manage, govern or develop these areas, and provides a new way to benchmark progress in the coming decade.”

About the International Downtown Association
Founded in 1954, the International Downtown Association connects diverse practitioners who transform cities into healthy and vibrant urban places. Representing more than 3,000 practitioners across 500 organizations worldwide, from cities and towns both small and large, IDA provides the critical tools and resources to help make every downtown a healthy and dynamic heart of its community. As expectations grow for downtown practitioners to transform their cities into hubs of economic and cultural vibrancy, IDA is the organization professionals turn to for the industry’s best networking, educational and professional development opportunities.

About the Center City District
The Center City District is a $20 million, private-sector sponsored business improvement district authorized under the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s Municipality Authorities Act. Covering 233 blocks in the heart of downtown Philadelphia, the CCD helps create a clean, safe, attractive, and well-managed public environment in order to support business and economic development in Center City Philadelphia. In addition to public space management and services, the CCD conducts extensive public policy and market research.

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