The Walkable Urban Neighborhood – Millennials Lead a Trend

179276480A recent study about new directions in our driving preferences states how millennials are leading a trend to driving less. But really, it’s not about what they don’t want that’s most interesting, it’s about what they do want: walkable communities.

In general, Americans drove more miles every year between 1946 and 2004. Today, Americans drive no more miles in total than in 2004, and no more per person than in 1996. Now, about those Millennials: young people aged 16 to 34 drove 23% fewer miles on average in 2009 than they did in 2001. That is a greater decline in driving than any other age group.

Why? Millennials are more likely to want to live in urban and walkable neighborhoods and are more open to non-driving forms of transportation than other Americans. They are also the first generation to fully embrace mobile Internet-connected technologies as part of their community experience.

They are moving in large numbers into urban cores. The migration to cities is particularly striking in a few key cities: San Francisco, Seattle, Washington DC, Orlando, San Jose and Denver all experienced at least 15% increase in young adults over the past 5 years.

Micro lofts are the burgeoning trend in economical urban living space. These new McMansions may only contain 250 to 300 square feet. In fact, the micro apartment may be the epitome of the downsize. They are being scooped up by young urban singles, service workers, recent grads, and retirees on a fixed income. Some micro apartment units include private bathrooms and modern building amenities, yet require sharing a kitchen and patio with neighbors. And cities are changing their rules to accommodate them.

So, maybe your dream home – at least for now – is in the neighborhood of your dreams. Ah, there’s the difference… it’s not about the dream home, but the dream neighborhood. Gen Ys are motivated by experiences (in an “experience economy”) not consumption, or home size. Smaller homes and apartments are both less expensive and easier to maintain, leaving more time and money for enjoying those experiences.

Many cities are upgrading their environment to offer the experience. Just one important example is the enormous investments in new residential-with-retail being made in urban universities. For example, extensive building has occurred in the Midwest, especially public schools with expanding urban campuses. Older cities like Cleveland have seen significant building at Case Western Reserve, Cleveland State University, and in Columbus at the Ohio State University.

Relocation companies who handle mobility needs for young assignees cannot afford to be catching up on this important trend.