Menus Subscribe Search

Follow us


long-island-airport

Long Island MacArthur Airport. (PHOTO: AMERICASROOF/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Long Island Is Dying

• November 18, 2013 • 6:31 PM

Long Island MacArthur Airport. (PHOTO: AMERICASROOF/WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)

Too many communities are dependent on migration for population gains.

“Brain drain” might be a real estate developer’s favorite term. Tell the local planning and zoning commission that your cool project will keep young adults close to home. Then trot out the doom and gloom demographics. Long Island is dying. The kids are fleeing because the downtown isn’t fun. Surprise! It’s the birth rate, stupid:

I explored the region’s tendency to accept developer-driven solutions for our housing woes, and the lack of sound planning that is often presented as an answer to how we can keep the region’s young professionals. Similar to the discussion of affordable housing, it’s time for Long Islanders to rethink the golden goose of “smart growth” advocates and developers: The Brain Drain. …

… Our demographics are changing, and always have been. Time and time again, I’ve quoted Dr. Seth Forman’s work on the myth of the brain drain, and I will continue to. Why are our young people leaving? As Dr. Koppelman has always said: “How can Long Island’s Young People leave if they were never born in the first place?

It is perceived that the brain drain is the result of faulty housing policies, a lack of cool downtowns with microunits and a general unattractiveness of Nassau and Suffolk. Planners and demographers argue that, in fact, the “primary driver of age cohorts” as Forman puts it, are changing patterns of birth and death rates.

Emphasis added. Oops. The social science doesn’t match the hysteria. Developers point to a Dead Souls migration. Planners point to Jane Jacobs and Richard Florida. Policy falls into a dark chasm of reality.

I need not be so cynical. A declining birth rate does not compute. The neighborhood park has less children than it used to. Something is wrong.

Educated women are having less children. Is that wrong? More and more communities are dependent on migration (i.e. immigration) for population gains. In rush public intellectuals and real estate developers promising talent retention/attraction:

“If you don’t have a talent strategy, you don’t have an economic strategy,” said Coletta, a nationally recognized expert on cities. …

… As Coletta dove deeper into strategies to attract and retain talent, a more complex picture emerged, one that held notes of encouragement for those struggling economically. She cited research that showed that kids raised by poor families in economically mixed neighborhoods have a much better chance of becoming better off than their parents than those raised in universally poor, income-segregated neighborhoods.

Now, young, college-educated people are gravitating to core urban areas. They are attracted to walkable, transit-accessible, culturally diverse neighborhoods, and immigration is an essential part of the picture. Coletta underscored the potential of leveraging that trend to build more economically integrated communities and to expand opportunity.

Coletta spreads on another layer to the creative community attraction, economic integration. To me, economic integration sounds like a starting point. How do we get there? I don’t recommend more arts, food trucks, and bike lanes. Boiling it down to demographics, don’t force women to choose between motherhood and a career.

Jim Russell
Jim Russell is a geographer studying the relationship between migration and economic development.

More From Jim Russell

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

October 30 • 10:00 AM

Sky’s the Limit: The Case for Selling Air Rights

Lower taxes and debt, increased revenue for the city, and a much better use of space in already dense environments: Selling air rights and encouraging upward growth seem like no-brainers, but NIMBY resistance and philosophical barriers remain.


October 30 • 9:00 AM

Cycles of Fear and Bias in the Criminal Justice System

Exploring the psychological roots of racial disparity in U.S. prisons.


October 30 • 8:00 AM

How Do You Make a Living, Email Newsletter Writer?

Noah Davis talks to Wait But Why writer Tim Urban about the newsletter concept, the research process, and escaping “money-flushing toilet” status.



October 30 • 6:00 AM

Dreamers of the Carbon-Free Dream

Can California go full-renewable?


October 30 • 5:08 AM

We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it’s probably something we should work on.


October 30 • 4:00 AM

He’s Definitely a Liberal—Just Check Out His Brain Scan

New research finds political ideology can be easily determined by examining how one’s brain reacts to disgusting images.


October 29 • 4:00 PM

Should We Prosecute Climate Change Protesters Who Break the Law?

A conversation with Bristol County, Massachusetts, District Attorney Sam Sutter, who dropped steep charges against two climate change protesters.


October 29 • 2:23 PM

Innovation Geography: The Beginning of the End for Silicon Valley

Will a lack of affordable housing hinder the growth of creative start-ups?


October 29 • 2:00 PM

Trapped in the Tobacco Debt Trap

A refinance of Niagara County, New York’s tobacco bonds was good news—but for investors, not taxpayers.


October 29 • 12:00 PM

Purity and Self-Mutilation in Thailand

During the nine-day Phuket Vegetarian Festival, a group of chosen ones known as the mah song torture themselves in order to redirect bad luck and misfortune away from their communities and ensure a year of prosperity.


October 29 • 10:00 AM

Can Proposition 47 Solve California’s Problem With Mass Incarceration?

Reducing penalties for low-level felonies could be the next step in rolling back draconian sentencing laws and addressing the criminal justice system’s long legacy of racism.


October 29 • 9:00 AM

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.


October 29 • 8:00 AM

America’s Bathrooms Are a Total Failure

No matter which American bathroom is crowned in this year’s America’s Best Restroom contest, it will still have a host of terrible flaws.



October 29 • 6:00 AM

Tell Us What You Really Think

In politics, are we always just looking out for No. 1?


October 29 • 4:00 AM

Racial Resentment Drives Tea Party Membership

New research finds a strong link between tea party membership and anti-black feelings.


October 28 • 4:00 PM

The New Health App on Apple’s iOS 8 Is Literally Dangerous

Design isn’t neutral. Design is a picture of inequality, of systems of power, and domination both subtle and not. Apple should know that.


October 28 • 2:00 PM

And You Thought Your Credit Card Debt Was Bad

In Niagara County, New York, leaders took on 40-year debt to pay for short-term stuff, a case study in the perverse incentives tobacco bonds create.



October 28 • 10:00 AM

How Valuable Is It to Cure a Disease?

It depends on the disease—for some, breast cancer and AIDS for example, non-curative therapy that can extend life a little or a lot is considered invaluable. For hepatitis C, it seems that society and the insurance industry have decided that curative therapy simply costs too much.


October 28 • 8:00 AM

Can We Read Our Way Out of Sadness?

How books can help save lives.



October 28 • 6:15 AM

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.


October 28 • 6:00 AM

Why Women Are Such a Minority in Elected Office

The obvious answers aren’t necessarily the most accurate. Here, five studies help clear up the gender disparity in politics.


Follow us


We’re Not So Great at Rejecting Each Other

And it's probably something we should work on.

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and the Brain

Neuroscientists find less—but potentially stronger—white matter in the brains of patients with CFS.

Incumbents, Pray for Rain

Come next Tuesday, rain could push voters toward safer, more predictable candidates.

Could Economics Benefit From Computer Science Thinking?

Computational complexity could offer new insight into old ideas in biology and, yes, even the dismal science.

Politicians Really Aren’t Better Decision Makers

Politicians took part in a classic choice experiment but failed to do better than the rest of us.

The Big One

One town, Champlain, New York, was the source of nearly half the scams targeting small businesses in the United States last year. November/December 2014

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.