The Misunderstood Millennial… And our Impact on Planning for our Future

cellphonesI am a millennial.  One of the 73 million born roughly between 1982 and 2001 that makes up a quarter of the population in the U.S. and the largest generation of its workforce.  We are creative, multi-tasking, tech-savvy souls who love our social media. We also like living in walkable urban environments with a sense of place.

Walkable St. George Street in St. Augustine, Florida

Walkable St. George Street in St. Augustine, Florida

When I was eleven, my parents moved us from a standard suburban community to a historical downtown in St. Augustine, Florida. At first, I questioned why we moved to an old, creeky house with no real garage and a rental property in the back. But my mindset changed. I realized that I could walk to the local shops and restaurants with friends. And, I could do this without asking for a ride from my parents. I enjoyed freedom to go downtown by foot, by bike, by scooter, however I pleased. There were festivals and events all the time. It felt alive.

The fact that millennials are moving to the cities in large numbers these days is evidence that they are looking for many of the same things I enjoyed about St. Augustine, including the idea of going from place to place without getting in a car. So how do we create the kind of living environments in our communities that will attract and retain millennials?

On October 2, I attended a U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) forum, Beyond Traffic, which gathered a group of Florida mayors to address this question. It became quickly evident that the mayors had strong perceptions on what a millennial wanted and how vital it is that we plan for this generation.

One of the forum attendees stood up to explain that not all millennials want to live in the city center without a car.  Her children love their cars. One of my fellow millennials quickly responded that they probably love their cars because we live in a car-centric society, where we have to drive cars to get around. It’s not necessarily what we want, but often becomes the only option with how our cities are designed. If we had more options, we would want to take them. This misunderstanding between millennials and other generations comes up a lot. Well, we use it, so we must love it. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. We want transportation options.

Complete street in San Jose, California

Complete street in San Jose, California

As the discussion progressed, another person stated that when millennials have children of their own, they need affordable housing options. “Millennials are often pushed back out to the suburbs because city centers are too expensive,” she stated. Personally, I don’t believe we can just plan for everyone to able to live in downtown areas, but for the people that one day will be living in the existing urban sprawl communities. It is essential to explore and enhance the areas surrounding our cities.

So based on what I heard at the forum, here’s some key actions we need to take to plan for millennials:

Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida

Downtown St. Petersburg, Florida

  • Facilitate and encourage redevelopment that supports economic growth and partnerships, not only in city centers, but in surrounding communities as well;
  • Create and expand multi-modal streets with bike lanes, wide sidewalks and transit options (aka complete streets);
  • Permit more mixed-Use developments that allow us to live, work and play in the same place; and
  • Create more diverse communities.

The Pinellas Planning Council and Metropolitan Planning Organization are committed to creating quality communities where people have viable mobility choices, access to diverse land uses and destinations and a sense of place. We want to connect people to their jobs and points of interest.

Approximately 18% of Pinellas County’s population is made up of millennials (American Community Survey, 2010). Over the next two years, the PPC/MPO plans to focus attention on the Gateway/Mid-County area of Pinellas County, which is north of downtown St. Petersburg. It is considered an economic engine of the region, supplying almost 60,000 primary jobs. It is a great example of an area that needs to attract and house millennials. It has a need for mixed-use development and multi-modal streets that would allow people to live, work and play in this community.

What are your thoughts when it comes to planning for millennials?

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