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New York and other top cities—including Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Boston—have been suffering the largest net out-migration of residents of virtually all places in the country, albeit the pattern has slowed with the recession.

It’s astonishing that, even with the many improvements over the past decade in New York, for example, more residents left its five boroughs for other locales in 2006 than in 1993, when the city was in demonstrably far worse shape. In 2006, the city had a net loss of 153,828 residents through domestic out-migration, compared to a decline of 141,047 in 1993, with every borough except Brooklyn experiencing a higher number of out-migrants in 2006.

Since the 1990s virtually all the gains made in the New York economy have accrued to the highest income earners. Overall, New York has the smallest share of middle-income families in the nation, according to a recent Brookings Institution study; its proportion of middle-income neighborhoods was smaller than any metropolitan area, except for Los Angeles. . . .

[M]iddle-class sensibilities get short shrift by urban scholars such as Richard Florida, who argue that in the so-called “creative age” places of residence should be “leased” like cars. In his mind, single-family homes, the ideal of homeownership, should be replaced “by a new kind of housing” that embraces higher forms of density without long-term commitment to a particular residence or location.

In fact, the sustainable city of the future will depend precisely on commitment and long-term residents. It also will rest on the revival of traditional institutions that have faded in many of today’s cities. Churches—albeit often in reinvented form—help maintain and nurture such communities. Similarly, extended family networks will be critical to future successful urban areas. As Queens resident and real estate agent Judy Markowitz puts it, “In Manhattan people with kids have nannies. In Queens, we have grandparents.”