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Do Millenials Prefer Urban Living Or Suburbs?

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Urban planners and home builders all want to know whether millenials — those currently age 18 to 34 — prefer urban living or suburban life. The answers are critical to knowing how to plan for the housing needs of America’s population in coming years.

Recently, PricewaterhouseCoopers helped produce a study for the Urban Land Institute called the “Emerging Trends in Real Estate” report. Last week, Andy Warren, director of real estate research at PricewaterhouseCoopers, made a presentation to a meeting of the Institute’s Iowa chapter about the results of that study.

He told the group, “It’s not an all-or-nothing question.” Anecdotally, most millennials “are saying, ‘I won’t go clear back to the suburbs, but I will move to that first ring of neighborhoods outside the urban core.’ ” He said one of the trends to watch is how things change as millennials grow up and baby boomers transition into life as empty-nesters.

The National Association of Home Builders released a survey in February that claimed 60% of millenials intend to live in the suburbs while only 10% indicated a preference for urban living. That is contrary to conventional wisdom which says more and more people will be flocking to our cities in the future. That report set off a frenzy of news reports with banner headlines trumpeting this unexpected new lifestyle dynamic.

The survey has been roundly criticized by city planners and urban advocates who point out that the it only considered millennials who have purchased a home in the past three years or plan to buy one in the next three years and excluded long-term renters who are more likely to favor urban areas.

Larry James, chairman of the Urban Land Institute Iowa, said we must also consider the source. Home builders rely on the suburbs because that’s where most new homes are built. He suggests the survey probably supported the assumptions of the people who paid for it, which is true of most reports.

But city planners need real information to do their jobs. The Des Moines Area Metropolitan Planning Organization paid to obtain the survey data from the home builders association. After delving deeper into the numbers, Mike Armstrong, an associate transportation planner with the MPO, said it shows a more nuanced picture of millennial home buyers.

“If you can get access to the data and dig into it, you see some of these more urban amenities — walkable neighborhoods, being close to parks, public transit” are what millennial home buyers say they want, he said. Millennials, for example, were more likely to desire in-fill development — a home in an established neighborhood — than home buyers as a whole. They also were more likely to desire a “high-density” development.

Armstrong says the home builders survey provides good information on what types of amenities millennials want in their homes, but shouldn’t be used to draw broad conclusions or make urban planning decisions.

The Urban Land Institute also cautions against trying to draw general conclusions about millennials. “Painting them with too broad a brush will lead to misplaced expectations — as it has with the baby boomers,” it says. “One size will not fit all millennials.”

What does seem clear is that the flight to the suburbs that saw the number of people living in downtown areas plummet after World War II is over. More and more younger Americans are recognizing that living in urban environments has many advantages, from greater transportation alternatives and reduced commuting times to greater access to cultural, educational and health care opportunities. Urban living also meshes well with the evolving trend toward a sharing economy and smaller living quarters like tiny houses and micro-apartments.

There will always be those who think having in a 14 room house with an infinity pool situated on 5 wooded acres is ideal. And there are plenty of folks who crave the densely urban environment typified by Manhattan. But for lots of people today regardless of age, life in satellite urban areas like Brooklyn and Queens offers the best of both worlds.

Source: The Des Moines Register

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