Young adults want to live in vibrant cities. Michigan needs to offer them better options.

Last week the New York Times published an article investigating the question of whether we’ve hit “peak Millennial”—whether the influx of young adults that has been so pivotal to population growth in cities around America is about to end.

This is an important question because of the strength of this trend over the past decade and its economic impact. More than other recent generations, Millennials in far greater numbers have preferred living in cities to suburbs or rural areas. They’re also a big generation. These two factors have combined (along with immigrant population growth) to stall or, in some cases reverse decades of population decline in Rust Belt cities like Philadelphia, Jersey City, and Baltimore. This trend is especially strong among the highly mobile, college educated Millennials who are the talented workforce whose presence drives economic growth.

In other words, their preference for urban living is a big part of why we at Michigan Future believe that placemaking—increasing the quality of urban life and public spaces in major Michigan cities—is a vital piece of an agenda for a more prosperous Michigan. Michigan currently fails to provide a world-class urban option and the state in many ways has undercut Detroit’s ability to be that city.

Joe Cortright from City Observatory has posted a response to the Times article that debunks the idea that growth in urban populations is about to end. First, Cortright points out, the generation that follows Millennials is indeed smaller, but only just barely. In fact, the number of young adults (aged 25-34) in the U.S. is still increasing. Second, while many Millennials who are aging into a new life phase (one that often includes parenting and a desire for a larger home and better schools) will tread the path of suburban relocation, Millennials are still showing a preference to live downtown longer, and at higher percentages, than previous generations.

Finally, Millennials’ increased preference for cities, while notable, followed a trend that is a few decades old. Every decade since the 1980s has seen an increase in the percentage of young adults who live in major metros. So there is little reason to suspect that the subsequent generation is going to dramatically reverse course.

Cortright’s analysis is that:

Rather than declining, the number of 25- to 34-year-olds in the United States will increase each year from now through 2024, rising from 44.1 million in 2015 to 47.6 million in 2024. In reality, the Millennial wave of urbanism is just now hitting the beach.

Michigan has lagged on a state level in supporting the types of efforts that will make Detroit competitive for this talent: transit, density, adequate funding for public services, and a welcoming culture.

Detroit’s success on this stage is an imperative not just for Detroit, but as an economic driver for the rest of the state.

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Sarah Szurpicki

Sarah is a partner at New Solutions Group, LLC, a consulting firm devoted to smart, collaborative, innovative approaches for organizations serving the public good.

This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I think developing schools in central metro areas that millenials will want their kids to attend will be essential. Millennials want schools where their kids can experience a diverse cultural and racial environment, and they also want top academic schools. We need for our central cities to provide both. It will help not only the millinials, but also lower income families who have been stuck in poorly performing schools for generations.

    1. Absolutely. This is part of why we see “placemaking” and education policies as two important, related prongs of a strategy that Michigan MUST undertake to be successful in the future. All Michigan kids need the opportunity to be prepared for college and career-readiness.

    2. Clearly its what would be best. But its proven really hard to do. So the pattern is cities attract young professionals before they have kids and then when they do have kids they rise them in the suburbs of that city. But if you don’t have the high density/high amenity city, they leave Michigan and raise their kids in the suburbs of the city they have moved to. So we need to get placemaking right now, while we try to figure out how to get high quality urban schools long term.

      1. Even if we could start with only one or two such schools in a millinial oriented inner city neighborhood, maybe they could start creating a critical mass and enble at least some innercity kids to get a better education. Even a not for profit charter may be successful in that enviornment. We have to keep trying.

        1. Agreed. And around the country there are those kind of mainly charter schools in cities. Not so much so far in Michigan. Its one of the reasons why I am so enthusiastic about the Museum School in Grand Rapids which I wrote about in a previous post.

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