The Myth of the Urban Millennial
The debate over what millennials want continues to rage in Kansas City and elsewhere. City leaders are spending gobs of taxpayer money on entertainment districts, streetcars, and subsidized housing in hopes that the so-called creative class will flock there. But the evidence to support such efforts is weak and growing weaker with time.
The New York Times published a column recently about where young college-educated people are choosing to live. The author wrote:
[A]s young people continue to spurn the suburbs for urban living, more of them are moving to the very heart of cities — even in economically troubled places like Buffalo and Cleveland. The number of college-educated people age 25 to 34 living within three miles of city centers has surged, up 37 percent since 2000, even as the total population of these neighborhoods has slightly shrunk.
Yet a Wall Street Journal piece, published just last week, reports:
A survey released Wednesday by the National Association of Home Builders, a trade group, suggested otherwise. The survey, based on responses from 1,506 people born since 1977, found that most want to live in single-family homes outside of the urban center, even if they now reside in the city.
A recent article in Business Insider suggests that the era of young professionals living in urban areas has peaked:
But a decade from now, the landscape will look very different. Millennials will pair up and have kids and want space. Cities, particularly the megacities like New York and Chicago, aren’t likely to become more affordable.
Demographics are destiny. That big bulge of younger millennials visible in the population pyramid is going to be hitting the prime age range for marriage and having kids in the next few years, and it’s likely that many of those new families will move out to the ‘burbs (or further!).
The true cost of revitalizing downtown may be more than the city can bear. Kansas City cannot afford to operate its own fountains and is cutting funds to public safety services. It cannot cover bad investments without taking money from the airport, it neglects the real urban core, and it relies on charity to meet basic city services. Kansas City needs to have a debate on these economic development assumptions, especially because there is so little money left to give away.