Why smarter land use can help cities attract and retain young adults

Kaid Benfield, Director, Sustainable Communities, Washington, DC

Here’s the nutshell:  20th-century land use won’t help your city attract and retain 21st-century people.  It just won’t.  This is because the lifestyle values of the Millennial generation, sometimes called GenY, are markedly different from those of previous generations when they were the same age as the Millennials are now (roughly 18 to 34).

The prolific urban observer Richard Florida has been telling us this in various ways for years, as he researches and charts the shifting economic geography of the US.  (I’ve gotten to know Rich over the last year and consider him a kindred spirit on these issues.)  Rich believes that the housing and finance industry collapse of the last few years signals the end of one economic era and the beginning of another, though I’m sure he would be the first to tell us that we’re in a messy and hard-to-pin-down transition.  But he is clear that the new economy – based less on manufacturing and established institutions, more on creativity, entrepreneurship, connectedness and interaction – will prosper best in places suited to a new kind of lifestyle, one that has already emerged in leading cities.

In his book The Great Reset, Rich puts it this way:

“Every major economic era gives rise to a new, distinctive geography of its own. This Great Reset will likewise take shape around a new economic landscape and a whole new way of life that is in line with the emerging economic and social realities of our time . . .

“One thing is certain: this emerging new way of life, which some already refer to as an impending ‘new normal,’ will be less oriented around cars, houses, and suburbs.”