The Many Dimensions of Change in Boston: A Series of Data Stories on the ACS 5 year estimate update

Day 1: Millennial Movement in Boston

Where are Millennials choosing to live? Policymakers, planners, and researchers have all asked this question, but the BARI team set out to identify where Massachusetts Millennials are concentrating using the recently released 2012-2016 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

While sources vary on the exact timeline, the Millennial generation is usually defined as all persons born between 1980 and 2000. [1] They are the generation succeeding the Baby Boomers and Generation X. They have also recently caused a stir in the media for being characteristically different from previous generations in terms of their ideals and preferences. No where is this more evident than in the housing market. One theory is that Millennials have snubbed the typical “American Dream” of owning a suburban home in favor of city living.[2] The BARI team chose to test this theory by identifying neighborhoods with above average[3] concentrations of home-buying aged or “older” Millennials (25 to 34-year-olds). We then compared the neighborhood characteristics of older Millennials with the rest of the state.


To understand the movement of 25 to 34-year-olds in 2012-2016, we first identified their location when they were college-aged or 18 to 24-years old. We used the 2007-2011 estimates of the American Community Survey to map census tracts with above average concentrations of “younger” Millennials (this map is available on BARI’s Boston Research Map as part of the “American Community Survey” layer). As predicted, the census tracts with above average concentrations of 18 to 24-year-olds clustered around colleges and universities across the state.



Using the 2012-2016 estimates of the American Community Survey, we then mapped the census tracts with above average concentrations of 25 to 34-year-olds (this map is available on the Boston Research Map as part of the “American Community Survey” layer) [4]. Interestingly, we found that the concentration of older Millennials clustered around major towns and cities rather than colleges and universities.



Our comparison of neighborhood characteristics supported our visual findings. Compared to the rest of the state, census tracts with above average concentrations of 25 to 34-year-olds are more densely populated (21,841 vs. 5,362 persons per square mile), are less White (63% vs. 74%), have more renters (65% vs. 56%), and have higher percentages of commuters who predominantly walk (15% vs. 4%) or take public transit (27% vs. 8%).


These findings support theories of urban living, but they also showed that Millennials are living in expensive areas that make the possibility of buying or owning a home more difficult. Compared to the rest of the state, median home values in census tracts with above average concentrations of 25 to 34-year-olds are $124,323 higher ($474,806 vs $350,483) while median gross rent is $378 higher ($1526 vs. $1148). Yet, the median household income is, on average, $1638 less than the rest of the state ($73,778 vs. $75,416).


While our findings support theories of Millennials living in more urban areas, we caution those who think Millennials are only living in downtown Boston, New York, or Los Angeles. In fact, our visual findings show that while there are large concentrations of Millennials clustered around Boston, there are still moderate populations around places like Worcester, Lowell, Springfield, and Pittsfield. It is up to planners and researchers to find out why 25 to 34-year-olds are attracted to urban living and if they intend to stay.



[3]  We define “above average” as anything equal to or greater than one standard deviation above the mean
[4] We excluded census tracts where 50% of the population or more was residing in “group quarters.” These “group quarters” are indicative of group living arrangements like medical care facilities, group homes, correctional facilities, military barracks, dormitories, etc.


Day 2: Bike Commuting and Bike Infrastructure


Will people bike if cities build the infrastructure to make it safer on the roads? The City of Boston has sought to further develop cycling infrastructure in the last five years, including commitments to bike lanes on reconstructed roads and the launch of several parking-protected bike lanes in the last year. But are people taking advantage of these efforts?


The BARI team found at least one answer to this question in the recently-released ACS data (available on BARI’s Boston Data Portal) for the 5-year estimation period of 2012-2016. The team compared these new data with the last five-year estimation period (2007-2011), which are also available on BARI’s Boston Data Portal, to show how people are making use of the bike infrastructure in Boston.


The data show some modest increases across the board in the proportion of Boston residents who are riding bikes to work every day. In the most recent period, 1.87% of all Boston residents reported commuting primarily by bike, while in the previous time period (before 2012), only 1.32% of residents reported doing so. Despite the sometimes-freezing weather in Boston, more of our city is showing enthusiasm for this sustainable form of transportation in recent years.



Where exactly are these Boston bicyclists, and what roads are they using? The BARI team mapped the most recent ACS data to figure this out. The maps below show census tracts in Boston, with their color indicating the percentage-point change in the percent of residents commuting by bike since the pre-2012 period. Red tracts indicate tracts that increased their bike ridership, while blue tracts decreased their ridership since the last 5-year period. Green lines indicate bike lanes that the city added since 2012.



The broad increase in bike ridership across the city is evident from the mostly-positive change in ridership across census tracts, with a few exceptions. This increase seems concentrated especially in JP, where the most radical increases in bike ridership exist. As far as interpretation goes, it’s pretty hard to make too much of causality here – after all, this is just co-occurrence of bike infrastructure and trends in bike commute adoption. That means that people could be increasing their cycling because of the newly developed bike infrastructure – or it could be unrelated to new bike lanes and paths. Areas such as Allston/Brighton and Dorchester/Neponset have seen some terrific improvement in bike infrastructure since 2012, and have also seen some larger increases in ridership. However, the large increases in ridership in JP are despite the fact that almost all the increases in bike infrastructure in the last five years have been elsewhere – perhaps reflecting the fact that there was already a great deal of bike infrastructure in JP.


Take a look for yourself on the Boston Research Map


Day 3: Seaport District


The transformation of the Seaport from an industrial zone to a thriving, tech-centered neighborhood has been the result of sustained, long-term vision. As the Boston Globe described recently, there has been over $133 million in public investment in the region and countless more in private investment. New skyscrapers have sprouted up, filled with office spaces, hotel rooms and apartments; trendy restaurants and bars provide an active nightlife; and institutions like the Boston Convention & Exhibition Center and Institute of Contemporary Art make for additional destinations. Because it had virtually no residents previously, the Seaport has been the rare case of a neighborhood’s birth. Using the recently released American Community Survey estimates for 2012-2016, we sought to answer the question: what is the nature of this newcomer to the Boston landscape, and how does it compare to the rest of the city?


It probably comes as little surprise that the Seaport is not like other Boston neighborhoods. It is a great place to live for professionals since it provides easy commutes. A quarter of Seaport residents walk to work, compared to 15% of people residing in other neighborhoods. Similarly, 61% of Seaport residents have a commute of less than a half-hour, while the same is true for only 48% of the rest of the city.



The types of people that benefit from this location are rather limited, however. Compared to the rest of Boston, they are younger (50% vs. 39% between the ages of 18 and 34), Whiter (82% vs. 45%), and considerably more affluent ($115,000 vs. $60,300 annual median income). Consistent with this profile, there are far fewer families than in the rest of the city (28% vs. 50% of households). It is also clear that other populations would not be able to live there, as the median rent is nearly double that of the rest of the city ($2,570/month vs. $1,350). (That said, it does not seem that the Seaport has driven up rents in the adjacent neighborhood of South Boston.) [1]


In sum, the ascent of the Seaport has created a neighborhood that many would want to live in—dynamic, with exciting amenities, and near to jobs—but is exceedingly isolated from the ethnically and socioeconomically diversity of Boston. In fact, the amenities themselves are tailored to a particular population, with many destinations for food and drink but no school, park, or library. It is, in essence, an island of young, White, affluent professionals. This raises a clear ethical question: the tax money of allBostonians went into the development of the Seaport, but only a narrow set of them are reaping the benefits.


[1] When controlling for previous rent and other demographic characteristics that predict changes in rent between the 2007-2011 estimates and the most recent ACS release, we see no differences in the rents in South Boston from what would be expected.


Day 4: Poverty Spikes During Recession and Recovery


Poverty in the city of Boston remains above its pre-recession levels. In 2000, 19.5% of Bostonians lived below the federal poverty line. Poverty peaked at 23.3% following the recession, and based on new data from the 2012-2016 American Community Survey, it stands at 21.1% today.


Poverty is not evenly distributed across Boston, nor were its increases (and decreases). The map below (left) identifies high-poverty neighborhoods where over 30% of residents live in poverty. Such neighborhoods are especially concentrated in central and south-central Boston in neighborhoods like Roxbury, Jamaica Plain, and South Boston.




In 2000, 36 of Boston’s 178 neighborhoods had very high poverty. Today, only 26 have very high poverty. Nineteen of these 26 had high poverty at both time points, which indicates prolonged disadvantage. Seven neighborhoods did not have high poverty in 2000 but do today, whereas 17 neighborhoods had high poverty in 2000 but do not today.


Of the 19 neighborhoods with persistently-high poverty, 6 are located in Roxbury, 3 in Jamaica Plain, 3 in South Boston, and 2 in South End. Another 3 of the 7 neighborhoods with emergent high poverty are in Roxbury. These persistent and emergent high-poverty neighborhoods are more likely to be majority-black neighborhoods. Of the 17 former highly-poverty neighborhoods, five are in Fenway/Kenmore and 3 are in Allston/Brighton. Notably, four of Boston’s communities saw half or more of their neighborhoods experience sizable poverty declines (7 percentage points or more) from 2000 to today: Allston/Brighton, Central, Fenway/Kenmore, and South End.


The map below, which can be easily reproduced in Boston Map, shows that the geographic disparity in Boston city poverty extends into the broader metropolitan area. Poverty in the metro area is especially concentrated within Boston, although there are pockets of neighborhood poverty in the communities north and southeast of the city.




Published On: January 12, 2018 |
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