It will take a generation for U.S. cities to truly experience a boom.
That’s according to Angie Schmitt, who writes at Streetsblog that despite all the attention given to a coming boom in urban areas, it won’t really happen until younger generations — Generations X and Y — occupy offices in which policy can be set.
Alex Ihnen at NextSTL articulated this generational tension last month in a blog post after Census figures showed the St. Louis had experienced yet another precipitous population decline: “When will the ‘old guard’ who have overseen this exodus stop cutting ribbons and turning dirt with a smile and silver shovel and simply get out of the way?”
Schmitt adds her own take:
I don’t see any signs of the older generations getting through the grieving process and moving on. This makes me think that for us to fully embrace a true urban policy, even in city government itself, it is going to take generational turnover.
The baby boomers are already starting to age, but they’ll be with us a lot longer. Alas, they have historically been the most suburban generation, and not shy about imposing their values, so I suspect we’ll be dealing with that legacy for a while.
Still, as time goes on, we’ll have more and more people seeing the city with fresh eyes, and only knowing it when there’s reason for hope and optimism. That by itself will be a building force for change and new directions over time, until the true changing of the guard arrives.
It’s an interesting take, albeit colored by her own generational leanings. (After all, I’m sure the Baby Boomers don’t take too kindly to their legacy referred to with an “alas.”)
But read between the lines, and it’s clear that in many ways, it’s not Gen-X or Millennials that are building the future city, but in fact…Boomers. The impetus remains justifiably credited to the younger generations, sure, but it’s the older ones that are helping respond to it.
Simply, there’s plenty of business opportunity in the growth of a city, and Boomers would be remiss if they weren’t the ones signing off on high-speed rail schemes, mixed-use development plans, new LEED-certified corporate skyscrapers and digital payment systems.
So it appears to this editor that it won’t take a generation for cities to return — it’s already happening now. But it’s happening through the cooperation of multiple generations eyeing mutual benefit: Generations X and Y demonstrate a viable market, and the Boomers demonstrate a response to it.
Is there truth in the trend? Absolutely — younger generations are indeed inhabiting cities once more, shaping them as they shift their disposable income and move their feet. But this peculiar arrangement means a different generation, one weaned on suburban living as the epitome of the American Dream, is the one signing off on tomorrow’s metropolises.
It takes a generation, sure. But then it takes another.
Photo: Baltimore skyline. (Ash Crowe/Flickr)