My colleague Joe Miller has written much about the idea that millennials are flocking to urban areas. This is important because, at least in Kansas City, city officials hold up the prospect of attracting millennials as the reason for their downtown spending spree on luxury apartments, hotels, and streetcars. Miller has pointed out that at best, the research on millennials eschewing cars and preferring urban life is mixed.
On Thursday, American Public Media broadcast a story on NPR suggesting that millennials aren't that different from previous generations at all.
But while we often think of millennials as a generation living in gentrifying neighborhoods in urban centers, 49 percent of millennial homebuyers are in fact moving to the suburbs, according to the [National Association of Realtors]. They are moving out of the city and away from the urban living culture with which they are closely associated.
Furthermore, the degree to which they ever diverged from previous generations' behaviors was a function of the economy, not some inherent difference in their makeup:
Part of the reason for that trend may be that some millennials waited longer to purchase their first homes, because of the soured economy, and may already have one small child and a second on the way. For those who themselves grew up in the suburbs and still have family there, [Chicago realtor Tommy] Choi said the decision to buy in the suburbs is an easier one. They often move back near their childhood neighborhoods…
"[Millennials] are growing up," said [NAR managing director Jessica] Lautz. And they are following in much of the same patterns of previous generations. "They are becoming homebuyers. They are saving. They are getting married. They are having kids. Much like all of us have done in past generations."
If Kansas City wants to grow its population, it needs to be a more attractive place to live and work for people of every age and race. This means focusing on spending efficiently on basic city services such as infrastructure, neighborhoods, and schools rather than diverting funds to big projects and praying for miracles.