Overwhelmingly, bright-light urban environments attract the exploding number of career-building, Boomer offspring known as Generation Y. After rooming in college dorms, these 20-somethings on tight budgets prefer places to congregate with friends—in parks, bar scenes, restaurant clusters, and building common areas—and can tolerate smaller living spaces.
Somehow this desire has led to an idea that all Gen Y Millennials and other urban dwellers are against home ownership, and GOP candidate Newt Gingrich recently fell pray to this speculation. He said in a recent speech at the National Association of Home Builders:
Those who, you know, live in high-rise apartment buildings writing for fancy newspapers in the middle of town after they ride the metro, who don’t understand that for most Americans the ability to buy a home, to have their own property, to have a sense of belonging is one of the greatest achievements of their life, and it makes them feel like they are good solid citizens.
This statement is unbelievably biased. It does not take into account the many surveys that more people want to live in urban areas and still want their own home. Gingrich’s statement is a stark generalization that walkability and public transit are mutually exclusive from home ownership.
However, the options for a homeowner in urban areas are often limited and expensive. The most desirable neighborhoods are often historic districts. These mature communities already have public transit, restaurants and stores and community activities that urbanites require. As a result, most of the homes in these areas are older and not always well maintained, and there is little room for new condos or townhouses to be built. New developments built to the standards of the historic patterns are often expensive, and Andres Duany himself noted that Millenials can not afford to buy in his New Urbanist developments. Due to these reasons, Millennials are buying homes later. They have to save more for a down payment for a 1,000 sf, one bedroom condo in their dream neighborhood rather than buying a 4,000 sf, 4 bedroom McMansion an hour away from their downtown office.
These changing priorities for buyers should be a clue to developers and designers as suburban communities begin to densify to support new public transit. Homes should be designed with affordability in mind, and urbanites accept a smaller place for the reduced cost. The recovery efforts are going to continue through 2012, and I believe that new, smaller units will be the key to allowing these urbanites to continue the American Dream in a new, different perspective than the historical house with a yard and a white picket fence – myself included.