Sun, Feb 02, 2020 - Page 7 News List

Superstar cities are driving people away

From Amsterdam to Sydney, locals are leaving big, expensive cities in droves, with Tokyo being the one exception

By Justin Fox  /  Bloomberg Opinion

Illustration: June Hsu

Like a lot of big cities in the developed world, Amsterdam lost population in the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s as its inhabitants opted for newer dwellings and more space outside the city.

During those same decades, newcomers arrived in large numbers from former and current Dutch territories, as well as Turkey and Morocco, but there were not enough of them to make up for the domestic exodus, and their presence led some longtime Amsterdammers to decide the city was no longer for them.

After 1985 — again like a lot of big cities in the developed world — Amsterdam stopped shrinking. New arrivals from overseas were still coming, and a growing number of them were having children.

Educated young people from elsewhere in the Netherlands began to stream in, too, attracted rather than repelled by the city’s increasingly diverse, cosmopolitan feel, and drawn in by a growing assortment of good jobs.

Starting in 2005, the city began to experience sustained net inflows of domestic migrants for the first time since at least 1950.

In 2015, that domestic inflow reversed. By 2018, the net outflows were of a scale not seen since the early 1980s.

The inflow from abroad has actually spiked back up recently — albeit from very different places, with British citizens now the biggest group of foreigners in the city and Italians leading the list of new arrivals in 2018.

Together with a big birth-death differential — because of earlier migration patterns, and probably also the insanely steep stairs in older apartment buildings, there are not a lot of old people in Amsterdam — this has kept the city growing.

In November last year, its population hit an estimated 873,200, finally surpassing the previous record of 872,428 set in 1959.

However, the accelerating exodus to elsewhere in the country seems significant, in part because similar things have been happening in Berlin, London, New York, Paris, Sydney and Toronto.

The one exception I found in my admittedly less-than-exhaustive search of what are frequently called “superstar cities” was Tokyo, which is still experiencing big domestic inflows.

Berlin, London, Sydney and Toronto have, like Amsterdam, continued to grow despite domestic emigration, although New York and Paris have resumed shrinking, and my sense is that some of the other superstars could follow in their wake before too long.

The great rich-world revival of the big city seems to be fading, or at least entering a new phase.

Population outflows from New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have already been receiving some attention in the US. Partisan politics often intrude into this discussion, which is one reason it can be helpful to internationalize things.

Big cities in other rich countries tend to be run by left-leaning politicians, just as in the US, but more-centralized national governments generally mean that taxes and other policies do not vary nearly as much between regions. Other forces must be at work as well.

The focus here is on Amsterdam because I was there last week; I spent the 1982-1983 school year in nearby Haarlem, among classmates who later became part of that late-1980s moving-to-Amsterdam wave; and Statistics Netherlands and the Amsterdam city office of research, information and statistics have more relevant data on offer than their counterparts just about anywhere else.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top