The Midtown Migration

“Midtown” is not only in your city, but is part of a movement popping up across the United States, and they seem to follow a specific pattern.

While many cities are experiencing independent development, and are growing within their own geographic and cultural boundaries, larger, sometimes global, trends are having their effect as well. In the 1960s a nationwide phenomenon labeled “white flight” occurred wherein millions of white Americans moved from the cities to the suburbs, with promises of low crime, good schools, ample space, and racial homogeneity. This movement amplified segregated communities, inner-city crime, and community income disparities. It also championed the automobile, created the concept of the “rat race,” and expanded the definition of the city. This large movement changed the make-up of our cities, and it is currently in reversal.

Millennials and baby boomers alike are ditching their lawns and fences for multi-family living, and proximity to cultural and entertainment options. After the crime drop in the late 1990s, inner cities became places of vacant land and untapped potential. While the CBD (commercial business district) land has always been coveted for office space, the areas adjacent to it in cities such as Houston, Seattle, Atlanta, and Dallas, was filled with vacant land, commercial space, and sparse residential. Hence began the “Midtown Migration” where development companies began purchasing and developing urban edge properties into trendy, market-priced rental units catered to young urban workers.


“Midtown” in this article refers to Edgewater, Midtown, Wynwood and the Arts and Entertainment District.

In Miami, this began on the south side of downtown, in Brickell, and worked its way to the North side once Brickell became pricey. While the waterfront south of downtown has always been built out, the inner blocks of Brickell began its renaissance after 2000. Mary Brickell Village was constructed in 2006, bringing entertainment to the district, and larger condo buildings followed suit. After the recession, a second boom occurred north of Downtown. Wynwood warehouses began to experience cultural and entertainment tenants, related to the street art culture there. This began to pull the center of gravity north, and the vacant land and older buildings along Edgewater and I-195 began to develop into large-scale multi-family development, priced for young new urbanists moving from the suburbs, and trendy down-scaling baby boomers. These previously undeveloped areas of Miami are now some of the most desirable. The reason multi-family development did not expand quickly in Wynwood specifically is that access is difficult, and zoning was preventative. This is changing and new developments are beginning to pop up there as well.

This national trend of reverse white flight is manifesting itself locally all over the United States in mostly post-war cities. These are defined as cities that developed mostly after WWII, with the advent of the car and the suburb.


Multi-Family Buildings in Midtown Houston

In Houston, Midtown is located just south of Downtown, using I-45 as a boundary. There was ample vacant land, and a new light rail built connecting downtown to the north to the Texas Medical Center to the south. Nestled perfectly between the areas 2 largest employment centers, this space was ripe for development for young urbanites. Since 2000 tens of new multi-family buildings have been built there, accompanied by new retail and entertainment.


Apartment buildings under construction or planned in Midtown Atlanta.

Atlanta’s Midtown is more recent, reaching an apex last year when it was named one of 2016’s best places to live in the US. As illustrated by the map above, 45 new projects are either under construction or planned in the area. This area is a good example of a mix of business, retail and residential, with access to the amazing Atlanta Botanical Garden, and the Georgia Tech Campus. There is also a public transit line running right through it, making it extremely accessible.

SOMA building

New multi-family under construction in SoMa in 2015

SoMa or “South of Market” district in San Francisco used to be an area of high crime and vacant industrial land. Now, residential and entertainment is slowly leaking south, spanning from the commercial activity of Market all the way to Mission Bay. This area enjoys quick access to the CBD, the Mission, Castro, and the Caltrain to Silicon Valley. While San Francisco is not a Post-War city, the center of gravity in the area has shifted in the last few decades, remaking the city and where its centers of employment and entertainment lie.

Other examples of successful “midtowns” include Uptown Dallas, Crossroads Kansas City, and Central Avenue Phoenix. Cities across the country are in the maturing phase of a transformation, where proximity and entertainment are king. This shift is good for public transit, sustainability, and innovation, however, it will cause a number of unintended consequences. Reverse flight is pushing the urban poor into suburban communities, far from cheaper transit, government resources, and supportive communities. In the latter phase of this Midtown Migration, we must ask ourselves, is it too late to carve out a place in this new city for lower income persons, who simply want to be a part of it too?

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