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Generation Y

Is Small Town America Becoming Passé?

The impact that Generation Y, ages 13-25, will have on urban planning is already becoming apparent. I’ve read about and observed first-hand the many small agricultural communities reeling from massive population loss, and the mid-size industrial cities dealing with the same issue, as well as struggling with keeping crime under control and selling people on the notion that it is important to rebuild these cities’ urban cores.

The impact that Generation Y, ages 13-25, will have on urban planning is already becoming apparent.I’ve read about and observed first-hand the many small agricultural communities reeling from massive population loss, and the mid-size industrial cities dealing with the same issue, as well as struggling with keeping crime under control and selling people on the notion that it is important to rebuild these cities’ urban cores.Many people might ask why this has any connection with younger generations. Why is it important to invest in cities when its citizens move out to the suburbs? Why is it important to rebuild town centers when those young people fortunate enough to go to college will just move away after school?Because Generation Y, the largest generation in American history, wants to live in the city.Twenty years ago, Washington, D.C. was renowned as the murder capital of the world. D.C. didn’t concern itself with urban renewal because residents were cocooned in the suburbs. The same is true for Minneapolis, once known as ‘Murderapolis’, as well as most large cities.In the late 1980s and early ‘90s, urban renewal spread across the United States. Cities started renovating and rebuilding to include housing, shopping, and entertainment for all walks of life.Author Richard Florida studies the vitality of America’s communities. He was recently interviewed by the Washington Business Journal and explained the move back to urban areas was spurred by social and generational change.In the 1930s, most Americans lived in small farming communities. In the 1940s and ‘50s, the automobile played a large part in travel and exposed America to new landscapes and bustling cities. In the 1960s and ‘70s, racial turbulence and civil unrest during wartime drove families to the suburbs and smaller towns and large cities both faltered.Many Baby Boomers pursued the ‘white picket fence’ dream – building big houses with sprawling lawns to give their children everything they didn’t have.The older Xers followed suit and McMansions were soon being built to accommodate their desire for big houses on their prohibitive, young professional incomes. (Financial analysts would say the Xers’ desire to have exactly what our parents had right out of college is what created insurmountable heaps of debt for our generation.)What will tomorrow’s communities look like?Undoubtedly, there will be a move back to urban areas.Generation Y is pre-disposed to living in urban areas. They grew up with technology, credit cards, and Starbucks. It’s no surprise their focus on community and convenience demands productivity and a short commute to whatever resource they need.Furthermore, Generation X, and especially Y, has placed considerable emphasis on work-life balance. They are willing to forego a large home in the suburbs and the long commute it requires for a smaller home closer to work. Gen Y is dedicated to the environment and the use of mass transit appeals to them.Commuting in exchange for a bigger house was a deal Baby Boomers were willing to make for their family. For younger generations, that’s not a reasonable trade-off.According to the Washington Business Journal, Gen Y will be 30% of the population by 2012.Is your city or town ready for Y?Y will move where there is a place for them, and as the largest generation in America, they will be a tremendous economic boon for any city offering jobs, diversity, transit systems, technology, coffeehouses, parks and recreation, and economic vitality.The fact is, few small towns in America will be able to capture the citizenship of Gen Y.

Sonja Moseley

Director of Strategy and Innovation at XYZ University, Sonja is passionate about growing intentionally. She isn’t afraid to ask tough questions that break down barriers and lay the groundwork for success. A Master of Nonprofit Studies coupled with leadership roles in nonprofit and membership organizations have equipped her with a unique perspective on mission-driven management. Sonja draws upon her experience to help organizations uncover opportunities and develop young talent.

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