Big lights, small city: Farley says small cities could be the new frontier for young professionals

May 3, 2019

Large cities are cast as meccas for young professionals, with their migration seen as a cultural inevitability. But with ever-increasing living costs and overcrowding, as well as technological advances that make proximity less of a necessity for employment, Professor Ren Farley says small cities and young people could find a happy medium. In his April 28, 2019, piece for The Hill titled “Small cities and young professionals need not be like oil and water,” Farley discusses the advantages and areas for growth that could build these previously overlooked areas.

Farley says that while medical centers, research universities, and financial sectors have long been the green light for recent college graduates flocking to larger cities, such advantages can similarly attract them to smaller cities. Young graduates, as well as young entrepreneurs, need incentives to move to such places, says Farley, something that can be more intentionally built into the infrastructure. Farley cites moderately-priced, reliable internet connectivity, environmental features that distinguish smaller cities from their larger rivals. “A distant, smaller city that offers several amenities, a vibrant social scene and moderately priced housing may be appealing,” stresses Farley.

Much of his article focuses on the need to build up social incentives that will entice young people, such as fun runs, music festivals and culinary events, saying that “the goal would be to spread the message that the local area is dynamic and has much to offer young entrepreneurs.” Farley doesn’t neglect issues of equity, however. He addresses the advantages this will have on aging populations and calls for direct efforts to be made to attract and protect immigrants.

Building smaller cities could help spread out economy-boosting ventures and reduce overcrowding in larger cities, but this will require political backing. Farley ends the article by saying that “the question is whether there are dedicated local political, financial and civic leaders who can organize themselves to acquire skilled and dedicated young people.”

Read the full opinion column here.

Professor Farley is also a research scientist at the Population Studies Center. His life’s work focuses on population trends in the United States, specifically in relation to racial differences, ethnicity, and urban structure. Currently, Professor Farley studies the revitalization of the Rust Belt, especially Detroit.