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Peak Millennial: Looking Past the Numbers

Two articles look at millennials, cities, and the future. "Peak Millennial" refers to the numbers of millennials moving to and from cities. Grist's Ben Adler looks at why urban millennials are moving to suburbs, and what can be done to address it.
March 29, 2016, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Gustavo Frazao

"Peak Millennial," described here last month, was coined by demographer and urban planner, Dowell Myers, Ph.D. of the University of Southern California. Natalie Delgadilloeditorial fellow at CityLab, writes that according to Myers, "from now on, there will be fewer young people moving into cities, because there will simply be fewer of them period...Additionally, as the largest group of Millennials grows older, many of them will begin to make the shift into suburban family life."

Ben Adler, who writes about climate change, energy, and cities for Grist, focuses on that last part—the urban out-migration of millennials, particularly for those starting families, to the suburbs.

"While it is a statistical fact that more Americans are still moving to the suburbs than to inner cities, it is a mistake to assume that means they all want to do so," writes Adler.

You've probably heard the narrative, backed up by census data: as millennials get older, they start families, and move to the suburbs in search of larger homes (and presumably the back yards), better schools, safer neighborhoods.

The truth is more complicated. Where people end up living is not necessarily where they want to live. If you look more closely, you will see that we’re pushing many people who would prefer walkable urbanism out to the suburbs against their will.

Adler delves into many personal examples of couples that "gave up city life to move to the suburbs, though many looked for walkable, bike-friendly neighborhoods. Adler believes cities need to accommodate the needs of millennials so they don't have to move by expanding the housing supply, making it more affordable, making neighborhoods safer, and improving the schools. 

After all, he writes, "[i]f you ask young parents why they have left a star city for its suburbs, or for a cheaper Sun Belt region, you won’t hear most of them say 'because I wanted to shop at strip malls and big box stores' or 'because I love driving everywhere.'"

The other group Adler looks at are baby boomers, many of whom are returning, or hoping to return, to cities as empty nesters. Ironically, that could accelerate the millennial out-migration if cities don't build more housing to accommodate both generational groups.

"Ultimately, all cities should be trying to figure out how they can expand their housing supply, improve their schools, build up their transit systems, and develop other infrastructure to accommodate everyone — the young, the old, and even the middle-aged with families — who wants to live there," concludes Adler.

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Published on Thursday, March 17, 2016 in Grist
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