While big city living is glamorized by our culture, as millennials leave cities, a new trend is emerging. On the surface, urban living appears to be the new American dream for millennials, but a brief look at the raw numbers reveals otherwise.
While millennials are living in big cities at rates higher than any generation before us, the majority of us still hang our hats in the suburbs and that number is set to increase. Maybe it’s because we can’t afford to move to the big city, or perhaps prefer a more quiet life in the ‘burbs. Either way, our generation’s future will likely play out in the same neighborhoods where most of us grew up.
In fact, some studies boldly suggest the opposite of what you might expect: millennials prefer suburbs over cities. Truthfully, millennial preferences are in fact a bit more complicated that most people would care to admit.
In essence, we want it all: the affordability and greenery of the suburbs coupled with the plentiful career and social prospects that an urbanesque city lifestyle affords. Lucky for us, the emergence of urban ‘burbs all over the country are giving millennials exactly what they want, a perfect combination of urban and suburban attributes.
Many of us sill live in big cities, but we don’t want to stay in these wildly unaffordable places forever. We’re not willing to completely abandon the convenience of cities, but we’d like to stop forking over half of our paychecks in rent every month. The answer to our prayers are the urban ‘burbs.
As millennials age, the urban ‘burbs give us exactly what we crave: medium density, public transportation, access to major cities closeby, and walkable areas with shops and restaurants. This is the best of both worlds, and the urban ‘burbs will be home of some fantastic economic growth in the coming decades.
Mom and dad’s preference for a big backyard is perhaps the biggest problem with most American suburbs. Low-density places with mostly single-family homes, while they’re extremely picturesque, are dull and automobile dependent.
Not surprisingly, most millennials want to live, work, and play in places made for humans, not 1950s cyborgs. Retrofitting existing suburbs with dense, walkable city centers is what makes the most sense, but there are draconian zoning laws across the country that prevent this type of development.
Increasing density has many benefits, including helping alleviate our affordable housing crisis. Given the lack of affordable housing nearly everywhere, we need a lot more housing to be built to put a lid on out-of-control real estate prices. Additionally, low-density suburbs are expensive to maintain, as they have too few residents to sustainably support their infrastructure. Of course, there are drawbacks, including increased traffic, which is why many communities resist higher-density developments.
Many of our commercial spaces like suburban strip malls, which are dying because of online retail, could be converted into medium to high-density residential and commercial areas. Yesterday’s abandoned strip mall could be retrofitted into tomorrow’s urban ‘burb that attracts throngs of millennials.
Places with zoning laws that prevent increasing density are dooming themselves to less millennial residents. Given that we’re now the largest generation alive, these places are probably signing their economic death warrants in the long term. According to many studies, increasing density makes the local economy a whole lot better.
The age of the automobile suburbs is over, and it’s giving way to the emergence of the urban ‘burb. As millennials become a more dominant force in the economy, you’ll be seeing these urban-suburban hybrid neighborhoods coming soon to a city near you.
Cross-Posted from GenFKD.org
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David is the Editor of Bold. He's especially passionate about millennial economic empowerment. A former local news reporter, David is originally from the Little Havana area in Miami, and later became a pioneer resident of the Disney-inspired town of Celebration, Florida. David holds a Master’s in Public Policy from the Harvard Kennedy School.
Founded in 2013 as a financial literacy organization, GenFKD is growing into an organization that’s revolutionizing American higher education. Through skills-based training and student-first reforms, GenFKD is advancing a system of “new education” focused on improving post-graduate outcomes in areas of gainful employment, financial preparedness and entrepreneurial readiness.