Not Moving Out: City Life’s the Life for We

For many years—decades, in fact—there has been a discernible pattern of migration from the five boroughs. Young singles get married, have babies and then start thinking about safe streets, good schools and picket fences. So they trade city life for a three-bedroom home in the suburbs.

Now, however, that pattern may be subject to change. According to the latest census data, more people moved to the city than moved out last year. Some 252,000 people moved to the city last year, while about 220,000 left for parts unknown. Generally, those numbers are the reverse.

The new figures illustrate a few points, all of them good. Clearly, despite the discontent voiced by Occupy Wall Street, the city remains a magnet for ambitious people from all over the globe. The city’s economy may be less than robust, but that hasn’t dimmed the city’s allure.

But new arrivals come by the hundreds of thousands every year. What makes these figures significant are the relatively low numbers of out-migrants. And that too can be easily explained: people in search of safe streets and good schools no longer have to pick up and move to Westchester, Nassau or New Jersey. Yes, picket fences are a bit hard to come by on the Upper East Side or in Williamsburg, but if your heart is set on them, well, there’s always Staten Island.

Quality of life—or at least the perception of quality of life—surely has been a major factor in chasing young families out of the five boroughs. But after historic decreases in crime and renewed efforts to improve public schools, the city has been able to counter the appeal of suburban life and its supposed quality-of-life advantages.

Home ownership, of course, isn’t what it used to be, and that certainly has helped stanch the flow of city residents to the suburbs. But, in the end, it is the city’s improved quality of life that keeps—and will continue to keep—young families from leaving.

It’s hardly a given that New York will remain the nation’s safest big city, or that schools will continue to innovate and improve. That’s why both must remain top priorities for this administration, and the next.