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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.

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