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Expert: Oxford Needs To Attract Young Families To Sustain Community

Organizer Blake Tartt III and Joel Kotkin

Friday, at the highly anticipated Joel Kotkin speaking event on the Ole Miss campus, the Courtside Club was as full as it would be on a big game day at the Pavilion.  Attendees enjoyed a free lunch as they learned what Oxford can do to continue to grow in a smart way while maintaining the assets that have the city ranked as the sixth fastest-growing city under 50,000 people in the entire United States.

The guest speaker was Joel Kotkin, a world-renowned author on urban trends and geography. He was brought in through a joint effort between the Real-Estate Alumni Board of the Business School, Ole Miss Athletics and the Meek School of Journalism and New Media for the sole purpose of helping students, giving back to the community and helping the City of Oxford.

Blake Tartt III, primary organizer and a real-estate developer in Houston and Oxford welcomed the crowd and provided context for the event.  Chancellor Jeffrey Vitter then introduced Kotkin. Vitter provided his own context, revealing that in his short time here so far, Oxford is the greatest city in which he has ever lived. He likened the challenges Oxford faces with those of the University.

The Pavilion Courtside Club had a large crowd.

“Oxford’s challenge is protect the small-town feel as it grows,“ said Vitter. “This is not unlike our goal at the University to maintain that small, close-knit feel while providing our students with broad access to learning and knowledge.”

Kotkin started out with some concepts from his new book “The Human City”, in which he talks about why people are attracted to cities. He said cities exist to “make things better for people.”

He added that factors in Oxford’s favor are that the vast majority of people moving in the U.S. are choosing smaller cities in the South and that from 2010 – 2015, 50% of the U.S. population increase was in the South. He said both the white and African-American populations are shifting southward and that the South has gained two million people since 2010.

IMG_2297When asked about why the media doesn’t talk about that, he said the media, much of which is based in the northeast, often does not want to write about the fact that people are moving south.

“‘The South’ has become a tableau on which people put their prejudices against the South,” he said. “New York city’s growth rate is half of what it was in 2010,” Kotkin said. “It’s just too expensive for people to live there.”

Another trend he noted is that for the first time, most metro areas in the United States have more telecommuters than transit riders. The same factors (namely better internet connectivity) that enable telecommuting also enable someone in North Dakota, who years ago might read a “dog-eared Wall Street Journal” three days after the bankers in New York, to get it at the exact same time.

“This is a huge change. This is where America will re-invent itself. The internet changes the balance of power,” he said. “All of a sudden these smaller towns can compete.”

“That is,” he said, “if they work at having a thriving environment with career opportunities, keep housing alternatives within reach and continue to improve infrastructure and parking.”

He added that it is great to attract what he called “young-old” and “old-old” newcomers, but their priorities are different. They have made their money for the most part, so their priorities for how tax dollars are to be spent are different.

But he cautioned the group several times about one particular factor that could hurt Oxford – housing affordability.


“I have been amazed at some of the housing costs I’ve heard about here in Oxford,” Kotkin said. “You have to be able to attract younger people, young families.”

“You have to have good schools to attract young, upwardly mobile families,” he said. “In other cities, when the young-old and old-old populations dominate, it’s hard to pass school bond issues, for example.”

Other tips he gave between a meeting with business and community leaders last night and the event today were that Oxford needs to be open to new industries and be accommodating to millennials and people with low incomes. He said the community needs to “incubate the entrepreneurial economy” and be welcoming to people from diverse cultures.

Tartt concluded the event, recognizing the Real Estate Alumni Board of the Business School and announcing that bringing in a speaker on the last day of class before exams will become an annual event.

Allison Buchanan is CEO and writer at HottyToddy.com. She can be reached at allison.buchanan@hottytoddy.com

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