Friday, February 22, 2008

Kinship Networks, Mobility, and Metropolitan Economies

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I got into a conversation tonight about (guess what!) urban economies. We were talking a bit about our careers and cities. I asked her: "Would you ever leave Minneapolis?" And to my great surprise, she answered quite quickly: "Yes!"

This response surprises me not because I'm a Minniephile (as I have well established in this blog by now). Rather, it surprises me because most people don't move away from cities once they have settled in. The vast majority of people--in this country anyway--stick close to home.

It's striking how often people end up living out their adult family lives in the region where they were raised. Kids move away to college. Most of the time, they go to the gigantic state university in their home state. Occasionally they go to Ivy League schools in the Northeast. Somehow, they always end up meeting their eventual spouses at school; those spouses often hail from the same region. These college kids graduate, marry, move around the country for a bit, and yet almost always settle back in the city closest to their hometown.

Kinship networks are strong. They are more than strong. They pull deeply at the soul of every human. People are born into families, churches, and social networks. They may seek education elsewhere. They may even live for a time in our cities, regions, and countries. But when they marry and produce children, they move home. The rhythms of their hometown run deep inside their blood.

Why does this matter from an urban studies perspective? It matters because metropolitan economic planning must take this into account. Cities are lucky in this respect. Cities can count on residents, in general, not wanting to leave. As long as cities provide a variety of lifestyle configurations and economic opportunity, cities will thrive in the long run. A city that follows this advice may not become vastly wealthy, certainly. But as long as young people feel that there is true economic opportunity "back home", they will return and they will continue to plant roots there.


Anonymous Bonnie Erickson said...

A young couple bought their first house from me. The only criteria: it must not be close to either parent! Three years later they return for their second purchase but this time she is pregnant. The only home they wanted: the one next door to mom!

12:51 AM  

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