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Real demographics: Boston

Thur - data: next city, start to get into demo split preferences

My continuing series intending to shed light on the actual demographics of the US, as opposed to media narratives, takes place in Boston. Boston is the #6 city on Forbes' list of Best 25 cities and neighborhoods for Millennials. And, for a shameless plug, also the location of one of my most rewarding professional endeavors: our work with Save Fenway Park! and the Fenway CDC to successfully help to save Fenway Park from a slew of bad ideas and the wrecking ball.

For background on this series, click here.

For my purposes I've again used the 5 biggest counties in the metro for this piece: Essex, Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth and Sussex. They comprise just north of 4.1 million people, and the 2010 census metro population is just a bit bigger at 4,640,802. I'm not including the two counties in New Hampshire that are technically part of the MSA, but are pretty distant from the city center.

So, for Boston, here's the population breakdowns by age.

I highlighted in yellow the very high percentage of 20-29 year olds, and then in the blue the 2nd most percentage.

I highlighted in yellow the very high percentage of 20-29 year olds, and then in the blue the 2nd most percentage.

The two highest categories are highlighted

The two highest categories are highlighted

So, what this all show?

For one, the obvious influence of the college-age population in the city. It dwarfs all of the other groups. However, Boston's age breakdown is otherwise very balanced in the metro. The largest age cohort is actually those born between 1960 and 1969.

Just like previously, let's make this a little more real: 

Using this study I'm going to make a big leap to assume 50% of the region wants walkable and 50% doesn't. Of the 50% that want walkable, I'm going to further estimate (based on my experience) that about 20% of them want big-city urban, 30% want small-city urban, and 50% want small town urban. For more on those categories, click here.

So by those numbers, I have 50% that want either suburban/exurban/rural living, 10% that want true downtown living and 40% that want small-city or small-town urban. 

Boston is trickier to measure since more of the city is "big-city urban" than the previous examples. But I'll take a shot using the best data I can find. The 2010 census numbers have the combined populations of Downtown, Beacon Hill, the North End and Back Bay at 57,620. So, just in the city of Boston that's only about 9.3% of the market. In the region that shrinks to less than 1.4%. What complicates studying Boston is that Cambridge is also quite urban. If some data and map wizard from MIT Labs wishes to collaborate with me on this - please let me know. I'm going to go with a judgment call that about 2.5% of the region is currently big-city urban. As with the other markets I've looked at, that is still dramatically under-performing in the market. At 10% of just the city market, it should have a population of around 61,000. In terms of the region (which I think is the correct measure) it's over 400,000. Even Boston still has tremendous opportunities to attract more people to a true city center market.

The small city and small town urban market is very difficult to quantify in this region without spending hours poring over maps and census data. The greater Boston region has numerous cities and neighborhoods that can meet the small-city and small-town urban categories, and many are quite successful. My educated guess would be that those markets are still under-performing as well, but not nearly as poorly as the region's city center markets. What I can say is that by looking at the regional market the approximate population of people who are customers for those sub-markets is just north of two million people.

I'll repeat what I said for other cities: So, planners and urbanists, take your shots. Even in a city that has a very young urban population, you aren't going to find that many 20-somethings or baby boomers to satisfy market demand. And in point of fact, the "boomer" market is really not all that big (since let's be honest: they're dying off). So, where will you find them? Perhaps it's time to look at those 30, 40 and young 50-somethings as well. Just keep in mind, they have different needs and desires.

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