What millennials seem to want out of cities: walkability, public transportation, good schools and parks (car is not necessary)

Admittedly, the “millennials vs. Boomers” topic is already a little old — and this is before millennials even start assuming the majority of roles in the workforce (right now, many of them are still in some form of school, or at lower-level posts starting out their career). But this is all fairly important for one major reason: although no one really knows when the “Baby Boomer” period should start (for example, my dad was born in 1940; by definition he’s not a Boomer, since that’s pre-war, but in every other functionality of the term, he is a Boomer) or when the “millennial” period should start (I was born in 1980, which can be classified into about 11 different categories, it seems), you can generally go off these numbers: there’s about 80 million millennials right now, and about 80 million Boomers. The difference is pretty simple: the Boomers are older, near the end of careers (or done with them), and near the end of child-rearing (or done with it; well, in reality you’re never done with it). Their decisions about where to live are thus not that flexible: they probably own a house, and if they don’t, it’s very unlikely they would move except to (a) be closer to grandkids or (b) death of a spouse (again, these are generalizations, but they aren’t without kernels of truth).

So those 80 million — the Boomers — aren’t really moving around, but the 80 million millennials likely will, and several times: for work, for school, for the pursuit of new opportunities. There’s been a fundamental disconnect over time about what cities offer to become popular among younger demographics — for example, low taxes for businesses — and what millennials and potential business owners actually want — for example, access to a talented workforce. There’s a couple of recent studies out, detailed here, that look a little deeper at what millennials seem to want out of a city. This is a big topic in terms of where the economic and social centers of America will be in 20-25 years; for example, will they be off the coasts? 

Here’s one set of numbers, from The Rockefeller Foundation:

They found that 54 percent of Millennials surveyed would consider moving to another city if it had more or better options for getting around, and 66 percent said access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria they would weigh when deciding where to live. Nearly half of those who owned a car said they would consider giving it up if they could count on public transportation options. Up to 86 percent said it was important for their city to offer opportunities to live and work without relying on a car.

Yep. Agree with all that. When I was looking at graduate schools, I had applied to University of Minnesota. It was cheaper and a pretty good program, and their financial package was good. I had it dead last for a while because I assumed, as a person who grew up in NYC, that you couldn’t get around Minneapolis without two cars (one for you, one for spouse). I’ve lived here two years now and we’ve had 1 car the entire time; my wife actually didn’t have a car for a lot of last summer, because I had to take it to a job which was predominantly out of Texas. It was hard, but it was doable. You can get “walk scores” here. The walk score of where I grew up? 100. (Upper East Side of Manhattan, NYC.) The walk score of where I live now? 94. (Uptown area, Minneapolis, MN.) The walk score of the place I’ve lived where I had to drive almost everywhere? 75 (Montrose in Houston, TX.) That 75 is still considered walkable — but the overall point here is, cars are expensive, the economy is still not amazing, cars also pollute, public transportation is seemingly on the up-and-up, and these all seem like things that would logically be important to the next group of people making their way in the U.S.

Here’s the other notable finding, from a second poll via Harris and the American Planning Association:

That poll, conducted by Harris, found that 68 percent of respondents believe the U.S. economy is fundamentally flawed, and that the path to prosperity lies in building up local communities—not through recruiting companies but by concentrating on these same basic elements of desirable places to live.

Yep. Also agree with this. The future is local, whether you’re talking about social or you’re talking about conceptualizing where to live. I grew up around a ton of people who love New York City and would never even think about living somewhere else — and I’ve met other people like that, around other cities too, as I’ve gotten older. I don’t feel that way about any city I’ve lived in (yet), but I do fundamentally believe that America’s “second act” (or maybe third act) will be based on the building up of local communities. That’s why stuff like BRT excites me, and/or re-routing highways properly. If a city can do these (seemingly small) things right, they can attract a new breed of young person, young family, business, etc. It’s worked so far in places like Salt Lake City, Indianapolis, and Pittsburgh.

There are flaws to all these studies in terms of questions asked, context around it, etc. — for sure. Remember that study a week or so ago where Illinois and Connecticut were the two states people were “most likely to leave?” Those are hand-crafted to be shared on social, no doubt — but if you look at the fine print, over 77 percent of people polled said they probably would never move, sans for a job relocation. So essentially, it’s meaningless. As such, you can take this nugget with a grain of salt too, but you can also think about some future major U.S. cities off of it:

Forty-four percent of respondents said they were somewhat or extremely likely to move in the next five years. Fifteen of more than 300 U.S. metro areas named as top potential destinations were: San Diego, New York, Boston, Denver / Boulder, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, Portland Ore., Washington, D.C., Austin, Phoenix, Charlotte, Atlanta, and Miami.

If you’re scoring at home, that’s: coastal, coastal, coastal, non-coastal, coastal, coastal, non-coastal, coastal, non-coastal, coastal, non-coastal, non-coastal, non-coastal, non-coastal, and coastal. The score is 8-7 coastal. 20-25 years ago if you asked emergent Boomers where they wanted to move, that tally might be 11-4 or 10-5. Things are shifting, and transport/schools/parks might be what tips it.




Ted Bauer


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