Renia Ehrenfeucht: Moving to a Shrinking City? Why Young Professionals Come to and Stay in Cities with Weak Job Markets

Renia Ehrenfeucht is an associate professor of planning and urban studies at the University of New Orleans where she holds the Louisiana Manufactured Housing Association professorship. Her research focuses on two areas: She investigates public space use and politics, asking how everyday interactions and institutions shape people's lives in diverse environments; she also examines how cities and urban residents respond to population loss and other forms of decline and vulnerability. She has published Sidewalks: Conflict and Negotiation in Public Space (with Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris) and numerous journal articles. She received her Ph.D. in urban planning from UCLA.


Somewhat unexpectedly, U.S. shrinking cities are experiencing localized reinvestment. Renovated historic houses and new eateries reflect the preferences of incoming post graduates and early career professionals. In a shrinking city, are these new residents primarily choosing where to live, as Richard Florida's creative class hypothesis suggests, or making calculated professional decisions? This [lecture] draws on interviews conducted with young professionals who were living in New Orleans in 2009 to understand what influenced their decisions about where and how they work and live. The initial interviews were conducted in 2009 and the participants were interviewed again in 2014. The [lecture] will examine how professionals negotiate their limited job choices and the advantages and disadvantages of urban conditions in depopulating areas, as well as what influenced their decisions to leave or to stay during the five years. The interviews add complexity to the longstanding debate about whether people with high human capital drive economic growth or desirable jobs attract these individuals. Residents told nuanced stories about how they build their lives, making decisions that incorporate and weigh trades offs between what they value, can access and create, and the opportunities that they find.

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