More young adults drawn to the Heights

A summer evening on Lee Road: can't have this in the outer suburbs.

Over a decade during which Northeast Ohio did not gain in population and Cleveland lost 17 percent of its population, certain neighborhoods saw significant increases in population among 25- to 34-year-olds. According to a recently published report, among the top 15 places showing growth was Cleveland Heights, which, according to the 2010 U.S. Census, had added 724 residents to the number who had been between the ages of 15 and 24 ten years earlier. 

Urban researcher Richey Piiparinen, co-editor (with Anne Trubek) of 2012’s acclaimed anthology, Rust Belt Chic: The Cleveland Anthology, recently published “Mapping Human Capital: Where Northeast Ohio’s Young and Middle-Age Adults Are Locating” for Case Western Reserve University’s Center on Urban Poverty and Community Development. 

Piiparinen parses the data further by race. The influx into Cleveland Heights consisted of 965 white, 557 Asian, and 61 Hispanic residents, but half of that gain of 1,583 was offset by a loss of 818 black residents in the cohort aged 25 to 34 in 2010. As in every other Great Lakes city, black out-migration from urban areas has increased startlingly, as African Americans have moved either to previously unattainable suburbs or out of the region altogether, often to the South. Countywide patterns showed large numbers of Asians moving into Cleveland Heights, Shaker Heights, and Mayfield Heights, with growth in the young Hispanic population in Old Brooklyn and Parma.

In the same 2000-2010 period, Cleveland Heights lost residents in the 35-to-44 age group. In fact, none of the top growth neighborhoods for 25- to 34-year-olds—including Lakewood, downtown Cleveland, Ohio City, Tremont, Mayfield Heights, and Old Brooklyn—were among the top 15 growth areas for 35- to 44-year-olds, and most lost population in this age cohort. Of all the urban and inner-ring places in the region, only Shaker Heights was among the top 15 gainers in that older age group. 

Piiparinen’s suggestion is that when middle-class people reach “family-rearing” age, they have historically sought to locate where other middle-class families seem to be going, in search of high-rated schools, low crime rates, and family-friendly amenities. This generally outward-moving pattern has pervaded American life for generations, and cities have still managed to grow as long as a constant influx of new in-migration filled in the urban core as other families filtered outward. Cleveland has lacked that in-migration element since the 1950s, which has contributed to its steady population loss. Piiparinen’s research suggests the overall pattern may be changing, however.

“Perhaps the Millennial Generation is different from past generations in that their ‘aspirational geographies’ have shifted from the suburban landscape to the urban environment,” he writes. If the American Dream of this next generation is all about walkable neighborhoods and access to the quality-of-life benefits that only a diverse urban environment can provide, then the Cleveland area is in position to build on existing strengths. Most likely, such repopulation of the urban core would build outward from areas of sustained quality of life. As the Heights Observer study of October 2011 demonstrated, the Heights area already offers that high quality of life, and thus could help lead a regional resurgence.

To Piiparinen, one deciding factor will be if these places that are so attractive to people aged 25 to 34 can “really step up and deliver for families” and thus retain these residents as they age. That would mean offering school options that can compete with outer suburbs, as well as offering family amenities such as recreation centers, parks, and libraries—essentially demonstrating that the reasons to stay outweigh the pressures to leave.

“What really grows your city is quality of life,” Piiparinen said. “In Cleveland you can get great quality of life at an affordable price. Better quality of life attracts more creative people. Better minds make better ideas and better ideas make a better economy. This gives us an advantage in comparison to places like Chicago or Boston that are a lot more expensive right now.” 

Read the full report at

Greg Donley

Greg Donley, a longtime Cleveland Heights resident, holds an M.S. in urban studies from Cleveland State University.

Read More on Cleveland Heights
Volume 6, Issue 4, Posted 11:07 AM, 03.28.2013