Thursday, April 16, 2015

Chasing the Trends

One of the problems with government today is that it is slow to react and often lags behind societal trends.  I'm reminded of that as I hear more leaders talk about Young Professionals Week and how cities need to "change to attract Millennials". 

Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett are "all in" on the belief that today's twenty and thirty-somethings are all about living downtown.  That the future of American life is renting high-rise apartments, working in high-rise offices, riding streetcars everywhere, going to downtown farmers markets twice a week and having quirky shops lining the downtown streets.  And to achieve this "Millennial Mecca" both are willing to invest millions of taxpayer dollars to dedicate all urban planning efforts toward meeting the whims of these young professionals.

But there is a problem with trying to chase the latest trends among the youth.  They tend to change their minds--often--about a lot of things.  When you are in your twenties or early thirties and you aren't married and you don't have kids, being "in the heart of the action" is rather appealing.  You don't have kids or dogs that need to play outside, the "entertainment district" is where you want to be--looking for an endless good time and a quick "hook up".

But once you have the spouse, and the kid and the dog, being in a high-rise apartment with little space, privacy or freedom isn't so appealing anymore.  You kind of want a lawn, and a garage that leads right into the house, and not having to take an elevator to get the mail, and you would prefer not to hear the sirens of police cars and ambulances all night, or the yells of the people you used to hang out with at the clubs as they wander around drunk after bar time.  And suddenly, the suburbs where Mom and Dad raised you look far more appealing.

And for those that buck that trend, their kids visit Grandma and Grandpa and realize how quiet things are out in the 'burbs.  And how you can ride a bike across the street without having to worry about being run over--and that there are parks and yards to play right outside of your door and they think "Wow, I can't wait to get out of the city and enjoy this kind of life!"  And when that happens, the cities that spent many years and many millions of dollars focused only on "transforming their downtowns" will see the same urban flight that marked the 80's and the 90's--leaving behind the trendy riverfront condos and the "retro-cool" streetcars empty and rotting in their wake.

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