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Smart Growth For All Ages

August 2, 2012

As has been well documented, the housing and community choices being made by two major demographic groups — the just-starting-to-retire Baby Boomers, and the up-and-coming Millennials, who are now 14 to 32 years old — will be driving consumer demand in the upcoming decades.

In this issue of On Common Ground, we discuss the housing, community and transportation choices that will be made by these groups, as well as those of Generation X, that smaller generation of people now in their 40s and late 30s.

Communities will be faced with several challenges created by the demands of different generations. Older citizens primarily want to stay in their communities, but will need some accommodation to do so — such as transportation that better suits their needs and abilities, and increased services from government or community organizations. Millennials are manifesting a great shift in our drive-everywhere culture, showing a reluctance to spend much of their day in traffic and a welcoming attitude toward alternatives such as walking, biking and public transportation. Generation X shows the strongest desire for the typical suburban arrangement of larger, single-family homes in an automobile-dominated environment, but they will be demanding better environments for walking and biking and the opportunity to walk to some destinations.

Some communities will need to simultaneously address multiple generations as they plan for the future, accommodating existing older residents, while making their towns more attractive for younger folks looking for a place to call home. Attracting these younger people will be important for growing the local economy as well as for stabilizing or increasing housing values.

The real rewards come from the fact that when a community addresses the need of any one of these demographic groups, they are making it a better place for everyone. Providing more alternatives to driving will benefit seniors, but will also make a place more attractive for younger folks who don’t want to adopt the live-in-the-car lifestyle. Retrofitting suburbs to be more walkable will benefit today’s Gen X families, while making these areas more appealing to the younger generation when they are ready to make their next move. The best community is the one that works for people of all ages.