American cities are experiencing a renaissance, thanks to the stagnant economy and a renewed appreciation for urban living.
For the first time in nearly a century, large cities are growing more rapidly than their suburban neighbors. Debt ridden, job hungry college grads are putting the American Dream on hold as they flee the white picket fences and manicured lawns of their parents to stay in rented apartments and condominiums. Although some young adults are living in town because they have to, others are choosing the urban lifestyle for the convenience.
Symm Vafeades, 33, prefers stopping at his favorite place for coffee and a breakfast burrito over being stuck in traffic on the way to his job as an architect in Denver. His commute is only two miles.
"I much prefer living in the city," he said. "There's just a lot more you can do without having to drive everywhere."
Vafeades lived outside Denver for a stint before realizing the long commute wasn't worth it.
The last time growth in cities outpaced the suburbs, factories hadn't started churning out automobiles to make commuting to work a feasible option. Recently released 2011 census data shows just how drastic the change has been.
Overall, city growth in 2011 exceeded or equaled that of suburbs in roughly 33 of the nation's 51 large metro areas, compared to only five in the last decade. New York City, Atlanta, Denver, Boston, and Charlotte, N.C experienced rapid growth compared to the last decade.
New Orleans, which has struggled with population growth since Hurricane Katrina struck, grew by 3.6 percent in 2011, compared with the 0.6 percent suburban growth rate.
"The recession hit suburban markets hard," said Royal Shepard, an analyst with New York-based S&P Capital IQ, which tracks the residential and commercial real estate market. "What we're seeing now is young adults moving out from their parents' homes and starting to find jobs."
Katherine Newman, a sociologist and dean of arts and sciences at Johns Hopkins University, chronicled the financial struggles of young adults in her recent book, The Accordion Family. Young adults are emerging as a generation of renters because of stricter mortgage requirements and mass amounts of college debt, she said.
From 2009 to 2011, just 9 percent of 29 to 34 year olds were approved for a first-time mortgage.
"Young adults simply can't amass the down payments needed and don't have the earnings," Newman said. "They will be renting for a very long time."
"Generation rent," young adults between 18 and 29, make up 1 in 6 Americans. Despite concerns that the city boom may not last as the economy rebounds, city developers are making great strides to appeal to the sizable, younger demographic.
The city of Niagra Falls, in New York, is even offering to help graduates pay off their student loans in an effort to re-vitalize its downtown. Students can get up to $3,500 a year from the local government, providing they hold a 2- or 4-year degree and agree to live in a particular part of the downtown area.
While some experts wonder whether city growth will decline once job opportunities in suburban areas pick back up, William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution says that cities can continue to grow.
"Cities that market themselves well to young people and that offer job growth, cultural amenities and access to rapid transit are likely to see continued growth," he said.
Businesses also have noticed the shift in demographics and are working to appeal to and accommodate the needs of young people moving back to the cities.
"There's a bigger focus on building residences near transportation hubs, such as a train or subway station, because fewer people want to travel by car for an hour and a half for work anymore," Shepard said.
Denver touts its new theatre district and "walkable urbanism," pointing out that residents really don't need to have a car to get around and enjoy city life.
The sales pitch seems to be paying off.
"I will never live in the suburbs," said Jaclyn King, 28, a project director at a Denver hospital. King, grew up in the Denver suburb of Littleton. "I just like being connected to everything down here - concerts, work, restaurants, all of it. This is where everything's at," said King.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.