When people envision our age group, they largely picture that we, the young and hip millennials, prefer cities much more than suburbs. After all, many of us came of age during the Great Recession, and migrated to cities where jobs were aplenty during hard times.
Our consumer habits have helped make the cities that were once hardscrabble and run-down into extremely liveable playgrounds for millennial existence. But the question remains: do we actually prefer cities over suburbs, or have we had little other choice but to live in urban areas?
Experts are divided about millennial’s lifestyle choices, and whether they might shift in the future. What we do know for sure is that our cultural norms are a radical departure from generations that preceded us, and those shifting patterns will follow us, even as we age. We’re not suddenly going to become exactly like previous generations, who fled as far into the suburbs as they possibly could.
How we’re different
Millennials, for the most part, want to live in walkable neighborhoods with public transportation. The lifestyle we embrace rejects car culture, as we are much less likely to commute by car than older age groups. Per capita driving peaked in 2007 and continues to decline largely because of millennial trends.
Being a renter is also something that’s much more mainstream than it used to be. The staple of the American dream used to be homeownership, which is now seen as a costly burden by many millennials. Renting gives you the flexibility to cut and run easily if a better career opportunity arises in a different city.
Cities are great, kind of
Cities are lovely places to find work, socialize and get out-and-about. Urban living is great while you’re young and vibrant, but as we get older, the gritty reality may cloud our optimism.
The sky high rents, the congestion and lower living standards pretty much across the board can sour an urbane existence. Housing is a major issue in many of our largest cities. For instance, about 100,000 people moved into New York City last year, but the city only added 25,000 new units.
Overall, living in a city can be depressing, and there is something to be said about the maturity and stability of living in the suburbs. In fact, some experts claim that millennials don’t actually prefer cities, but rather that we just don’t have the resources to live elsewhere right now. In the same way we’ve delayed other major life events because of economic reasons, migration to the burbs is yet another milestone that’s been put off because of financial stress.
The perfect neighborhood: urban/suburban hybrid
The most recent data available suggests that millennials are starting to leave big city downtowns, but they’re not going to the low-density suburbs where they likely grew up. The ideal living environment for millennials appears to be a new age hybrid suburb that mixes the best of both urban and suburban worlds.
What a hybrid urban/suburban neighborhood means in practice is largely subject to interpretation, but there are few characteristics we can easily nail down. Millennials want the social interaction and the infrastructure that they’re likely to find in cities, with the affordability and greenery that suburbs typically enjoy.
We want the liveability of the suburbs married with the convenience of the cities. Luckily, this type of development has existed for years, and is called New Urbanism. However, there are not nearly enough places that embrace New Urbanism yet to satisfy the consumer preferences of our generation.
Many of our low-density suburbs will have to be retrofitted as denser areas with better public transport and walkability. Fortunately, this is already happening in cities around the country. As millennial dominance in the economy becomes the norm, we’ll see smarter neighborhoods for the 21st century millennial living.