A major point of emphasis in the 2014 edition of P.U.M.A’s Global Trends Report is the emerging impact of the Millennial Generation (also known as “Gen Y”), an 80 million strong demographic born from (1977 to 2003) that represents approximately one quarter of the U.S population.
And for good reason
Millennials are creating seismic shifts in how we think, consume and live. And these trends will likely accelerate as this demographic achieves full immersion into every fiber of our cities and regions.
As I find myself in frequent conversations with GenYrs in coffeehouses, at poetry slam events, and at coworking spots, I have become convinced that their impact will be felt most in downtown center-city districts.
And what does this mean for downtown leaders and stakeholders charged with boosting the economic vibrancy and livability of their downtown districts and adjoining communities?
So in the midst of my own process of deciphering what all of this means, a number of perspectives rose to the surface in terms of what I believe millennials REALLY want from a downtown. A few are blindingly obvious; others may be a bit of a surprise. So here goes with my stream of “no holds barred” thoughts:
1. Edgy Third-Place Locales: Coined by the author Ray Oldenburg in his book The Good Great Place, third-places are coffee shops, bars, restaurants and other gathering places that people frequent for community and connection. Because Millennials crave experiences with their tribes, they seek out these locales in abundance, particularly in trendy downtown districts that offer a variety of convenient options within walkable distance of where they live. Enough said.
2. Plug-Ins: Places to frequent are one thing. But Millennials hold in high value locations where they have easy access to electrical outlets and wi-fi connection. I often see this at coffeehouses where uninitiated first timers often meander around on a search and rescue mission for a place to plug in their laptop or mobile device. So savvy downtown’s would be wise to consider offering convenient options such as mobile device charging stations and district wide wi-fi for this technology obsessed crowd.
3. Mobile Apps: Millennials want access to local area amenities and alternative transportation options. And and they want it in a hurry. So here’s the bottom line: Downtowns that fail to establish an app presence will rapidly find themselves behind the curve in terms of engaging this generation. Instagram, Facebook, Yelp, and Foursquare are among the online portals where a presence is imperative. And look for the app called RideScout to make some noise in terms of addressing the mobility needs of this on-the-move generation.
4. Transient Living Options: News Flash: Millennials are generally NOT interested in purchasing single home. And if they are, they generally can’t afford to. Translation: Center-cities and their adjoining neighborhoods need to foster of philosophy that supports the highly transient living needs of this crowd. This includes short term, affordable rental options as well as the regulatory flexibility to accommodate the “white-hot” Airbnb model. As my new 24ish Denver friend Caitlin notes, “We millennials like to move around a lot and could care less about figuring out where to settle down. Our tendency is to pick up and move about often. Quite frankly, a one-year rental lease is considered way too long in our world.”
5. Substituting Pets for Kids: Having kids is also not a priority for millennials. As a result many millennials now consider pets to be a worthy substitution. In fact, it accords with a Mintel research study which found that 17% of Millennial pet owners have a pet related app on their smart phone or tablet while 26% are interested in technologies that foster a stronger pet-owner relationship. Go figure.
Does this trend have implications for downtown districts? You bet it does. Dog parks are becoming a highly desirable amenity. So are biodegradable bags to pick up you know what. Should BIDS and downtown partnerships subsidize the latter? You be the judge.
6.Mobility Options: Cars? Nope! Millennials aren’t purchasing many of these. As I noted in an article entitled Smart Cities and the Technology of Walking:
“Automotive industry company Edmonds.com reports that young adults aged 18–34 purchased 30 percent fewer cars in 2011 than 2007. And since the late 1990s, the share of automobile miles driven by Americans in their 20s has dropped from 20.8 percent to 13.7 percent. Bottom line: Millennials are choosing to settle in central-city areas where the dense built environment favors walking, bicycling, and other non-traditional modes of transportation. Cars are “out”; two feet are “in.”
Let me translate this: Shared car and bike options are now becoming an imperative for downtowns. And public transit agencies are going to need to up their game by developing technologies that improve accessibility for demanding Millennials. An example of this is the creation of apps and other technologies that provide estimated time of arrival information for a crowd that’s constantly on the move.
Now for my final observation on this topic. When it comes to staying attuned to the pulse of the millennial crowd, P.U.M.A gets it! Brad and Anna’s teaching stint at the University of Colorado-Denver allows them to remain connected to the shifts occurring with this demographic. And they were were even savvy enough to hire Erin Laetz straight out of the master of urban and regional planning program. All wise moves that downtown leaders should be mindful of in their quest to stay ahead of the millennial curve.