Who Lives Downtown


An analysis of downtown population, household, and income trends in 44 selected cities from 1970 to 2000 finds that:

  • During the 1990s, downtown population grew by 10 percent, a marked resurgence following 20 years of overall decline. Forty percent of the sample cities began to see growth before the 1990s. While only New York’s two downtown areas and Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Diego saw steady increases from 1970 to 2000, another 13 downtowns have experienced sustained growth since the 1980s.

  • From 1970 to 2000, the number of downtown households increased 8 percent—13 percent in the 1990s alone—and their composition shifted. Households grew faster than population in downtowns, reflecting the proliferation of smaller households of singles, unrelated individuals living together, and childless married couples.

  • Downtown homeownership rates more than doubled during the thirty-year period, reaching 22 percent by 2000. Overall the number of homeowners grew steadily each decade. By 2000, the share of homeowners across the sample downtowns swung from a high of 41 percent in Chicago to a low of just 1 percent in Cincinnati.

  • Downtowns are more racially and ethnically diverse than 20 years ago. From 1980 to 2000, the combined share of white and black residents living in the sample downtowns fell from 81 percent to 73 percent, while the share of Hispanic and Asian residents increased. The number of white residents living downtown rebounded in the 1990s, however, despite an overall loss of this group in cities as a whole.

  • In general, downtowns boast a higher percentage of both young adults and college-educated residents than the nation’s cities and suburbs. In 2000, 25- to 34-year olds represented nearly a quarter of the downtown population—up from 13 percent in 1970. Forty-four percent of downtowners had a bachelors degree or higher.

  • Downtowns are home to some of the most and least affluent households of their cities and regions. Twenty of the sample downtowns—such as Midtown Manhattan, Dallas, and Miami—have at least one tract where the median income is higher than that of their MSA as a whole. Thirty-eight have at least one tract 50 percent or lower than their MSA median.

While this analysis demonstrates good news for downtown residential development overall, demographic, market, and social trends differ substantially from place to place. Urban leaders need to understand these patterns so they can make investment decisions that best capitalize on their unique assets.