Luring Millennials through Great Neighborhoods

Millennials have been clustering in urban hotspots, and millions of others will be settling down over the next decade. William Fulton advises less attractive cities and suburbs on how to avoid a brain drain.
November 6, 2012, 6am PST | Jessica Hsu
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The migration trend of millennials is "to a small number of hip metro areas (D.C., San Francisco, Seattle) and smaller cities (Boulder, Colo.; Missoula, Mont.; Palo Alto, Calif.) around the country and hip employers follow them," writes Fulton. "The result is an upward cycle of talent and jobs and business growth in the fashionable places, and a downward cycle everywhere else."

Even Boston, "which has the greatest concentration of universities in the country, lots of cool neighborhoods and a big chunk of the innovation economy" is facing an outmigration, though the problem there is primarily one of cost, not lack of appeal. Experts say that Boston "needs more starter homes in interesting, transit-rich locations," but this will be an easier feat for Boston than for other less attractive cities and suburbs.

Fulton explains, "So if you're not one of the hip places today, you have only a few years -- the length of one real estate cycle and the time horizon for planning an infrastructure project -- to become hip enough to keep your kids and attract others." He acknowledges that "[t]his might seem like a daunting, if not insurmountable challenge," but he points out that second-tier cities like Omaha, Neb.; Oklahoma City; Richmond, Va.; Syracuse, Buffalo and Rochester, N.Y.; and Manchester, N.H. have been successful.

"Most people -- even millennials -- want to live near their families and near where they grew up," concludes Fulton, "meaning that if you can create interesting places, they're likelier to stay. And you don't need the endless hip urban fabric of New York or D.C. to compete. You just need a few great neighborhoods for people to live and work in. For most cities, that's an achievable goal."

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Published on Monday, November 5, 2012 in Governing
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