As everyone who sits in rush hour traffic on Mo-Pac knows, Austin is undergoing the inevitable process of sprawling. But according to a recent study from the Centre of Excellence for Science and Innovation Studies, Austin is actually one of the most densely packed cities nationwide in terms of human capital. Austin, together with San Marcos, actually comes in at #5 on the top ten list for cities with the highest concentration of human capital – which really just means college grads who choose living in the city center over the suburbs. To give you an idea of how dispersed most cities are, Austin makes this list with a rate of only 40 percent choosing to live downtown. In other Texas cities, you can see that college grads are much more dispersed, especially in the Valley.
Nationwide, the cities that have the most college grads living in the suburbs are ones you'll recognize as having some of the highest costs of living in the U.S. – New York, San Francisco and the Bay Area, Washington, DC, Boston – places where it may not be so much a preference as a necessity to live a bit farther afield. But in many other dispersed cities, it's not necessarily cost alone pushing people to the suburbs. Some of these cities simply don't have a concentrated downtown or public transportation or the other features that make the higher cost of city living worthwhile. From The Atlantic:
“The revitalization of the urban center in cities like New York, San Francisco, Boston, and others has fueled in-migrations of more skilled and affluent people. Other cities, like Los Angeles and Detroit, still suffer from the proverbial “hole in the donut” effect, with their more educated, higher income populations spread out across their suburbs while their urban centers lag.”
The study doesn't weigh in on whether it's better to have your educated workforce in the city center or in the 'burbs, but finds that the concentration (or lack thereof) of human capital clearly affects incomes, home values, transportation, investment and a host of other factors that play into a city's overall health.