Millennials and Baby Boomers Migrating to Cities: What It Means for the City of the Future

Much has been made about the rise of the Millennial generation and the changes that are coming to meet their various attributes and needs. Though the differences between Millennials and Baby Boomers are well noted, especially in the area of work habits, outside the realm of work these two groups have many seemingly disparate traits that combine to create a surprising demographic change. Both groups are moving, en masse, to cities. And the large migration of these two largest generations is driving other changes to which both governments and businesses need to pay attention.

Millennials are values driven, meaning that they will support causes and businesses that hold meaning for them. Many of these businesses provide some sort of social good, whether it be TOMS shoes or the local organic farmer’s market. Connectivity is something else that Millennials value. They like to share. PolicyMic, along with the usual suspects like Facebook and Instagram, are great examples of this need to reach out and connect with others. These connections create experience, another craving for Millennials and, contrary to popular opinion, these connections are not limited to the online variety. What better place to share and connect than in a densely packed city?

Boomers are driven by practicality, especially as their bodies age, making it harder for them to get around, and their incomes shrink, making it harder for them to get the stuff that they want. The other salient fact about the Boomer generation is that as their children (the Millennials) leave home there is little reason for them to hang on to their large, expensive, suburban homes. The aging of the Boomer population has also placed an increased premium on acquiring health and wellness products and services.

The end results of the bracketed population shift to urban cores are many. Sustainable communities that are walkable, energy efficient, and integrated in regards to many of their services are springing up in urban areas and close-in suburbs. Green is increasingly the color of development going forward. Along with affordable, sustainable housing, mass transit is receiving renewed attention in many places. Urban farming and local food movements are increasing in popularity and profitability as the eco-conscious Millennials and the health-conscious Boomers increasingly demand to know what is in their food and where it comes from.

The consequences of the shift for business and government are evident. Large retailers will face an increasingly tough market atmosphere as Millennials go elsewhere to seek value and experience and Boomers move away from the suburban Big Boxes and into city cores. Cities will be forced to adopt more flexible land use policies as increasing numbers of residents demand convenient access to the products and services that they require. Smaller living space means less storage. Consequently, corporations that offer products as services (think ZipCar) or some other intangible value will gain increasing market share as ownership falls out of vogue and Millennials gain more say over what is bought and sold. The same holds for public infrastructure as large backyards give way to need for public parks for green space access and cars are sold in favor of utilization of mass transit.

At 150 million combined representatives, Millennials and Boomers together account for nearly half of the American population and the combination of their needs and wants is set to drive many markets for the foreseeable future. Those needs can be met only through smart policy on the part of both business and government so that the services required by both groups can be adequately met. Businesses and governments alike would do well to plan smartly to engage the requirements of these two unique generations.

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Nate Abrams

I'm a systems guy, which means that I look at almost everything in terms of interconnections, feedback loops, architecture and scale. In other words, I look for the big picture and the deeply buried reasons for why things are the way they are.

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