The millennial generation stands to shape our cities for decades to come, largely because it’s so big: 86 million, compared to 77 million baby boomers. Millennials are just starting to turn 30, and middle-aged demographers are wondering how many of them will run to the suburbs like their parents and grandparents before them.
Now, cities face a new demographic reality: The young and single are aging and having children. If the pattern of the past 50 years holds, they might soon set their sights on suburbia.
“We know young people move the most,” says Richard Florida, whose book The Rise of the Creative Class published 10 years ago helped spark the wooing of young professionals to revive declining urban centers. “So capturing people early on in their lives in a metro really matters. It’s important to compete with suburbs for people once they get a little older and have children.”
The older they get, the less likely people are to live in cities, according to recent Census data. The peak age for urban living is 25 to 27, when 20% of that age group are nestled in urban centers. By the age of 41, about a quarter have moved to the suburbs.
Experts say getting cities baby-ready would entail improving schools, building housing near public transit, and expanding and improving parks. That all sounds well and good to me, but here’s the hitch: Demographers say millennials want to bring the suburbs to the city with more low-rise townhouses and single-family homes instead of apartments. So much for that density thing?
Cities are growing, but it’s still unclear just how much they’re growing compared to the ‘burbs.
Will young people move to the ‘burbs because older people before them did, or will cities be able to retain young families?
There are still plenty of young and childless professionals for cities to pursue (the youngest Millennials are in their teens), but as the oldest move to another life stage, cities face a balancing act: Provide adult fun and culture and trendy lofts, but build family-friendly homes and child care centers at the same time.
Even with all the changes cities are making, many Millennials will head to the suburbs when they start a family — but probably not as many as in previous decades, [cities guru Richard] Florida says.
“Before, 90% to 95% would’ve moved, and I would see it more as 60% or 70% now,” he says, based on research and observations. “My hunch is many will move to a close-in suburb that’s walkable, near transit.”
My hunch, as one of these mysterious, potentially ‘burb-bound millennials? There are still lots of factors that would keep us in the cities: urban job growth, rising gas prices, the collapse of the housing market, safety improvements, declining interest in cars, delayed marriage age. These could all be good news for urban areas — even if some of us still secretly want a ranch house with a picket fence.