What is “The Fifth Migration”?


The historic clock tower and museum at the Lowell National Historical Park in Lowell, Massachusetts. Other former factory buildings surrounding this one are renovated as loft apartments. (from http://www.boottmills.com)

Coined by Robert Fishman in an article he wrote for the Journal of the American Planning Association in 2005, “The Fifth Migration” is, most simply put, the repopulation of America’s cities. He argues that we are now at a time where there is a great influx of people into America’s cities, whether that be from immigration or from suburban people “rediscovering” the city.

He develops this term from a series of terms Lewis Mumford used in 1925 to describe the great migrations over the course of American history. The “First Migration” occurs when European settlers venture to the Americas, the “Second Migration” when people move from farms to factory towns, and the “Third Migration” when people move into larger cities, which were becoming economic powerhouses as the industrial age drove the economy. Mumford then predicts a “Fourth Migration”, where American cities are depopulated and people spread across the landscape into much less densely populated communities. As many of us now know, his prediction was fairly accurate, and the “suburbs” are still popular places to live as many cities struggle to support themselves. Fishman writes that:

“Mumford was exactly right to comprehend that the American industrial metropolis, whose growth seemed inevitable at the time, was in fact a highly unstable and temporary urban form. The booming “factory zones” of the 1920s, with their multistory factories surrounded by densely packed housing, would in the second half of the 20th century become the depopulated inner-city epicenters of the urban crisis, while Mumford’s fourth migration carried people and population to the ever-receding peripheries of the region.”

The aim of this blog is to explore the many factors at play in “the Fifth Migration”, or what he terms as the reurbanization of our inner cities. This can already be seen in many former industrial centers such as Lowell, Massachusetts, which has one of its former factories preserved as a museum and national park, with the others renovated as loft apartments, or Manchester, New Hampshire, where the city is repositioning itself as an incubator of start-up companies in “the Millyard”, a district of factories that had been long sitting vacant until only very recently.

The future of American society is in urban places. Whether that be via the repopulation of older urban cores or the urbanization of other places, there is a desire and a need to live in cities. My hope is that I can delve into why this is happening and what people are looking for when they return to the city.


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