A change in Millennial home-buying preferences may suggest a trend that impacts how we plan and design for smaller communities. This presents great opportunities for smart growth investment in multi-modal transportation, green infrastructure, walkable neighborhoods, and placemaking.
If you conduct a Google search for “What Millennials Want,” you will find anything from “What Millennials Want in the Workplace” to “What Millennials want from QSR Loyalty Programs.” As planners and designers, we value the studies aimed at Millennial preferences relatable to our field, things such as what Millennials look for in public transit, entertainment, and education. Determining Millennial housing preferences, however, just might be the most discussed and relevant trend over the last few years. And we’ve all heard the common narrative: Millennials want to rent a loft downtown, Millennials would rather live at home with their parents to save money than rent an apartment, and Millennials prefer the city to the suburbs.
But is this really the case anymore? A recent study might suggest otherwise.
The Millennial cohort, defined by the US Census Bureau as those born between 1982 to 2000, are 71 million strong and on the verge of surpassing Baby Boomers as the country’s largest living generation by 2019, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. Just a few years ago, several studies revealed that Millennials were moving to the urban core faster than any generation before them. They wanted to live close to bars, coffee shops, and other young professionals. However, things may be changing. A 2018 publication released by the National Association of Realtors, Home Buyer and Seller Generational Trends Report, suggests Millennials are heading the other way. According to the publication, 52% of those age 37 and younger bought a house in the suburbs or in a subdivision, the most popular location to buy a home among all age groups. Millennials were also found to be more likely to choose a home in a small town than Gen X’ers and younger Baby Boomers. Only 15% of Millennial buyers purchased a home in an urban area, compared to 21% in 2015.
SWT Design worked with the City of Edgerton, KS to develop a downtown strategic plan that embraces and maximizes the city’s rapid growth. The plan retains the community’s small town character and rich history, and positions the downtown area for sustained development. According to datausa.io, Edgerton’s Millennial population was about 41% in 2016.
So why the change? Perhaps it’s because Millennials are getting older, getting married and having children, which makes larger yards and cheaper mortgages more desirable than higher rents and apartment-living. Perhaps they desire communities in which their parents and friends live or because of limited housing stock available in urban areas that fits their criteria. Regardless of the reasons, these trends could potentially be the start of a paradigm shift shaping how we think of planning for this demographic.
As planners and designers, we should always be cognizant of the trends, needs, and future projections within the communities in which we serve, large or small. While we need to plan for issues surrounding the urban core, we must not forget that the Millennial-desired small- and medium-sized communities often face unique challenges not found in large cities, such as finite access to resources and limited ability to compete with the wages offered in a large city, creating a heavy reliance on automobiles. As these communities grow with an increase of Millennial families, the unique challenges create great opportunities for communities to apply principles of smart growth in order to remain competitive. These principles can provide communities with amenities that many people think are exclusive to larger cities. Amenities such as multi-modal transportation options can help combat the dependency on automobiles in commuter communities. Planning and investing in green infrastructure can reduce the future need for costly traditional gray infrastructure, freeing up funding for other resources. Creating compact, walkable neighborhoods with shared green space and trail networks affords young families safe access to open space. Investing in streetscape improvements can create a distinctive, attractive community with a strong sense of place that is appealing to a more robust spectrum of potential businesses.
SWT Design led a team of consultants to guide the City of Louisburg, KS through the development of a Master Trails Plan to supplement their recently updated comprehensive plan. It will serve as a guide for incremental trail, sidewalk, and other bike/pedestrian improvements. According to datausa.io, Louisburg’s Millennial population was about 36% in 2016.
Planning and designing for growth of any kind is not something that is entirely proactive or reactive. It is not something that can be accomplished in a vacuum or by following a recipe. It is something that is fluid and best accomplished by fully identifying and comprehending the current trends, future projections, existing conditions, and pressures facing the community in which we work. By understanding all of these influences and applying the right amount of smart growth principles, we can guide our communities to be as competitive and progressive as possible.