KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -- Across the country, things are changing. People are flocking to the suburbs instead of city centers. It’s a shift from the first half of this decade, according to The Wall Street Journal. The newspaper on Monday interviewed Brooking’s Institution demographer William Frey who said, “The back-to-the-city trend has reversed.”
It turns out that trend holds true in the Kansas City metro, but only sort of.
“I think we have really good balance for the first time in a long time in this city,” said Jeff Pinkerton, an economist with the Mid-America Regional Council, otherwise known as MARC.
According to the Wall Street Journal’s census analysis, the main shift comes when comparing the first and second halves of this decade. In the first half, on average, cities with populations above 250,000 grew faster than suburbs. In the second half, that city growth stalled, with an average growth rate below 1%.
But the data for the Kansas City metro diverges from that.
“We have growth downtown, growth in the first-ring suburbs and growth in the more far-lying suburbs,” said Pinkerton, “So we really have, in a word, balance.”
Locally, downtown revitalization came later than in other parts of the country. Now, nearing the decade’s end, cranes are still part of our downtown skyline and by all accounts the demand is still there.
Morgan Small moved in just last year.
“When I was looking at apartments,” Small recalled, “Everywhere was 98 to 100 percent capacity.”
Yes, millennials are moving to suburbs, because the older end of the generation is 38. They waited longer than previous generations to have kids, but they have them now.
“The suburbs are growing just naturally. It’s a good place for families,” said downtown resident Hai Chen, who has friends who’ve gone suburban. “But Kansas City is still affordable.”
That’s one reason why Pinkerton says urban growth in our region isn’t stalling. The phenomenon cited by the Wall Street Journal is attributed to people leaving cities where they’ve been priced out. That’s not as big a factor in Kansas City.
“You still have more and more people coming,” Pinkerton added, “The next generation, Gen Y, moving in to downtown Kansas City. You have empty nesters moving in.”
He showed us MARC’s estimates for future growth up to the year 2040.
The blue bubbles indicate population growth. The biggest blue bubbles are on the farther out suburbs, but there’s also a good chunk of blue downtown. Red indicates population decline. There is very little red on the map. What exists is in an area that includes Ruskin Heights and parts of the city’s east side.
It may be significant that median rents and home prices in the Kansas City metro are still well below even the so-called affordable suburbs that are surging the most.
The fastest growing town with a population over 50,000 was Apex, North Carolina. According to the US Census, population increased by 43.1% from 2010-2018. The median owner-occupied home price there (2013-2017) is $289,300. The median monthly rent is $1,194.
In Kansas City, Missouri the corresponding numbers are $139,900 and $862. For Jackson County, the numbers are slightly lower. For Platte and Clay Counties, the numbers are higher. Platte has the highest costs of the three counties that Kansas City, Missouri includes. It’s median owner-occupied dwelling is $204,900. Its median monthly rent is $953.
Alexis Yakes grew up in Denver and moved to downtown Kansas City from New York City by way of Boston. She had a list of things that set Kansas City apart.
“There’s an arts scene here. There’s nightlife here. There’s really great restaurants here. It’s really easy to get around here. It’s affordable,” said Yakes. “I would say the best of both worlds. It’s a hidden gem for sure.”