By Kris Michell
The American city is in the midst of a rebirth.
Across the nation, we’re seeing a reversal of the trend that started 60 years ago, in which the middle class moved away from urban centers, along with much of the commerce that serves them.
From the millennial generation to the aging baby boomers, Americans are once again embracing city living and all it offers — vibrant, walkable neighborhoods close to work, restaurants, shopping, and cultural events.
San Diego serves as a perfect example of the flight from the suburbs back to the urban core as the place to live and work. But while we knew, anecdotally, that San Diegans were choosing to live or locate their businesses Downtown in increasing numbers, we wanted to know exactly who our revitalized city center was attracting — and why.
That’s the reason the Downtown Partnership partnered with UC San Diego’s Center for Research on the Regional Economy last year, to gather data to build a profile of Downtown’s residents and workers.
The study is the first major effort to capture Downtown’s changing demographics and captures key insights on the economic and social factors driving the urban population. Based on the evidence from the first of two phases of the study, it’s clear that Downtown offers the lifestyle amenities and around-the-clock environment that millennials and baby boomers desire in their personal and professional lives.
Here is a glimpse of what we can expect for Downtown San Diego between now and 2050.
Downtown is a regional center for population growth
From 2012 to 2050, the residential population in Downtown will more than double, growing by nearly 30,000 residents. Downtown will grow by 91 percent between 2012 and 2050, while the region will only grow 29 percent by 2050. That means that Downtown will account for roughly 3 percent of the region’s growth by 2050, even though it only accounts for less than four of the 4,526 square miles in the entire region.
Downtown is changing
Downtown is currently dominated by men, who account for 59 percent of the population, but women are expected to outnumber their male counterparts within 10 years. Nearly half of Downtown’s population consists of millennials between the ages of 18 to 34. More than half of Downtown residents are Caucasian, while about 20 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino. The fastest-growing ethnic groups in Downtown are of mixed-race ethnicity or Asian and the study predicts those who identify with two or more races will grow by 125 percent between 2001 and 2024.
Downtown is highly educated and affluent
Downtown residents are highly educated; close to one-third have earned a bachelor’s degree from a four-year institution, and roughly one-fifth have earned a graduate, medical or law degree. More than half have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 35 percent countywide. Downtown residents have a higher average annual salary than the rest of the county as well, which isn’t entirely surprising, considering the high concentration of business, management and tech innovation careers concentrated here. Downtown residents earn an average annual income of $74,000 compared to $59,000 countywide.
Downtown is a mecca for innovation and economic growth
In addition to being a mecca for well-educated people, Downtown is also hub for innovation and economic growth. Between 2020 and 2035, jobs in Downtown are projected to grow by roughly 50 percent, which signifies that Downtown’s role as the region’s economy booster is only expected to grow. Because of its large concentration of technology startups — more than 100 to date — Downtown was named the No. 1 startup cluster in the county in 2014.
Downtown is a center for the arts and work-life balance
A magnet for culture and creativity, Downtown is home to 13 arts and culture organizations, 29 active art galleries and seven neighborhood planning and architectural organizations. Downtown is also a walker’s paradise, with almost 19 percent of the population walking to work. We also have 20 parks, 16 neighborhood green spaces for community engagement, 10 monthly farmers markets and more than 220 happy hours.
—Kris Michell is the president and CEO of the Downtown San Diego Partnership, a nonprofit, member-based organization that serves as the leading advocate for the revitalization and economic health of Downtown. To learn more about the Downtown Partnership, visit downtownsandiego.org.