Millennials will move to the suburbs when they’re ready, just like everyone else…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

As an early Gen-Xer, I have to roll my eyes every time I see a think piece about Millennials and what they want out of life.  The Gen-X curse is to grow up in the shadow of the the most solipsistic generation in history, the Baby Boomers, and now in middle age to endure the entitled brats they raised.

And so we see it again in a recent article in my local suburban newspaper about — wait for it — what local suburbs are doing to attract Millennials to live there:

Faced with aging populations, stagnant post-“great recession” economies and static or declining tax bases, local villages, towns and cities are eyeing millennials and young professionals as potential saviors. It’s the same story across the nation as communities look for ways to attract 18- to 34-year-olds.

With an estimated 75.4 million people in that age group, the Pew Research Center says millennials surpassed the nation’s 74.9 million baby boomers last year, making them the largest generation in the U.S. Their numbers alone suggest that millennials will soon drive the economy and culture, and that the communities they choose to call home will reap the benefits.

So what are these suburbs doing to try to attract 20-somethings to come live there?  All the stuff that, say, people like me would have liked 20 years ago, the stuff that 20-somethings ALWAYS like: affordable rental apartments, nightlife, restaurants, entertainment, recreation, hiking trails, mass transit to the city.

I mean, are they hiring EXPERTS to tell them this, that young people want affordable housing?  That young people want restaurants and nightlife?  Do we really need a focus group of Millennial Panelists to tell us that they like going out at night?

My god, these people drive me crazy.  There’s nothing special about them, nothing new in the attitude that they want to live in the city and hate the idea of moving to the suburbs.  These 25 year olds are like all 25 year olds, going back to when the suburbs were invented.

Let me save everyone a lot of time and money: Millennials will move to the suburbs when they grow up, just like everyone else.  

So stop wasting your time.  You’re never going to get a 25 year-old to move from the greatest city in the world just because you have an artisanal “home-decor shop that purveys mono floral honey produced by nomadic beekeepers in Sicily.”  No matter what they do in New Rochelle, or Mount Vernon, or Dobbs Ferry, or Hastings, they’re never going to create anything that’s more than the faintest, palest imitation of what Millennials can get in Manhattan. And why settle for downtown White Plains when you have the real thing 20 miles away?

If you don’t believe me, here’s what a Millennial herself had to say about these efforts:

Developers try to convince millennials of the “value” of these new luxury developments by installing high-end appliances, but value isn’t just having a dishwasher and Sub-Zero fridge. They also try to recreate the convenience of New York City by building “urban villages,” but, to me, transit-oriented, mixed-use developments are little more than ersatz recreations of what comes naturally in big cities. All the amenities might be there, but, at the end of the day, they’re just another suburban development that feels too sterile and artificial, closer in spirit to a retirement community than somewhere a person in their 20s wants to live. And really, if all I wanted was to live in an overpriced, luxury apartment on a block with an artisanal coffee shop that’s not too far from a train station, I’d live in Manhattan.

If you can get past the self-centeredness of a 25 year old typical of a generation taught by their Baby Boomer parents that Galileo was wrong, you can see the problem.  There is absolutely nothing that developers or planners can do to attract young people to the suburbs by trying to compete with the city.

Millennials, like all other young people, are only going to move from the city if one of two things happen.

First, they’ll move if they can’t afford it. And mostly they can’t, not anymore. When I was 25, my first apartment in the city was $700 a month for a studio on 34th street right above the Lincoln Tunnel, which represented about 30% of my monthly income.  You know what that studio rents for right now?  $400,000 a month.  Seriously.  It’s very expensive in the city.

Even then, though, young people will do anything to avoid moving to the suburbs. Even move to Brooklyn, which is basically a suburb but don’t tell anyone or you’ll kill the market.  And now they keep going deeper and deeper into Brooklyn until they eventually they’r going to realize that they’re living in Coney Island and it’s actually further from midtown than White Plains.

Second, they’ll move to the suburbs when they get married and have kids, and  realize that they need closet space.  After all, that’s basically why the suburbs were invented — as a place to settle down.

But here’s the good news for these suburban towns: Most people grow up.  The baby boomers thought the only time they’d go to the suburbs would be to dance in the mud at Woodstock, and they eventually settled most of the Hudson Valley.  Generation X never thought they’d move to the suburbs, and here I am.  And Millennials don’t think that they’ll ever move to the suburbs, but they will.

But not because they opened a new artisanal pickle shop in Dobbs Ferry.  They’re going to move to the suburbs for the same reason that everyone does — because babies make noise and you can’t sleep in the same room as them.

Leave a Reply