(1) People moving into more densely populated areas. Lots of things drive this tend: commute time, access to services. Small practices in suburbs won't serve people who only have Medicaid, so if you need services for your kids, it might be more convenient to be in an apartment in a city than in a house in an exurb.
(2) Multifamily growth; single family stagnation. The last decade was all about single family housing and related statistics. That's where the bubble was and that's where all the attention was. The attention was very conspicuously not on multifamily and it still isn't, even though vacancies are down, shadow inventory in multifamily is moving onto the market (mothballed condos from the boom coming online as apartments; that unoccupied mother-in-law apartment being rented again, etc.) and rents are starting to rise. Oh, and there's that tiny blue house across the street from the gas station that has been torn down and replaced by a whole lot of tree and stump removal and big holes in the ground. This being New England, lots of large rocks being moved out of the way to make way for what will either be apartments or condos. And the other one in Concord (http://www.concordriverwalk.com/for-sale/for-sale, http://www.wickedlocal.com/concord/features/x55985081/Work-begins-on-Concord-Riverwalk-development). And the condos still slowly selling on my street. And so forth.
The irony here is that even in a town which is perfectly positioned for this kind of development and which is happy to have it (a lot of this multi-family is 3 bedroom and intended for kids who will be attending our excellent schools while their parents hop on the conveniently located highway -- which is incredibly slow -- or the commuter train to go to work), a lot of people in the town are completely unaware that this development is happening. Or, for that matter, that there's a van you can call for pickup to get to that train station, the parking for which is always full very early in the morning. They don't even realize that double track is being extended further out the line, and it's hard to know how you could live here and fail to notice that.
(3) People paying down their mortgages/overall private debt reduction and not just through writedowns by banks.
(4) Remodel/renovation rather than moving. The good construction guys who did remodel/renovation were never completely out of work in this area, but now they're so busy that the less good/more annoying guys are seeing a good amount of work as well. Permitting is up and it's a little harder to get in touch to schedule an inspection than it was for a while there.
(5) Small businesses popping up in long-vacant and therefore cheap commercial space. Sure, there are still empty spots opening up (sometimes because one of the older small businesses has taken the opportunity to expand into a new, larger space). A lot of these small businesses are exactly the kind of thing people want in tight times: consignment, inexpensive restaurants, small ethnic grocers, etc.
I'm sure we'd all be much happier if we were having the kind of recovery where every week we checked the news and learned about how some company was offering spectacular packages to relocate executives and hire new kiddies out of college and so forth. But this is the recovery we've got. Saying it _isn't_ a recovery (or at least the beginnings of one) because it isn't the kind we wanted is Not Helpful.