An OLR blog post of 3/25/15 (“The Move from Suburban to New Urban”) cited claims that suburbs are in decline as young people increasingly move to areas where they have walkable access to services and amenities, like restaurants and retail. But a panel discussion in Washington D.C. (click here) recently suggested that when “millennials” have children, they want to live in single family homes and their concerns are no different from those of past generations of parents; suburbs are still safer and provide access to better schools. Affordable urban apartments—(See this article from the Hartford Courant on the growth of housing units downtown.)—tend not to serve families well. They are small and low on things families want, like closets, privacy, and access to the outdoors. The Washington meeting was hosted by the Urban Land Institute and was attended by academics and city planners hoping to anticipate the needs and desires of the next generation of renters and home buyers.
Recent reports, like the one found here in the New York Times, have documented the growth of “micro-units” in major cities. But does it make economic sense, and is it possible, to build city environments that are more family friendly? One panelist in Washington noted that filling a city with small housing units guarantees that people will leave the city just as they are “starting to put down roots and spend money.” Predicting shifts in the housing market, like predicting the long-term desires of an entire generation, is impossible. The success of both our cities and suburbs depends, after all, on larger social and economic forces, and on a continuation of the economic mobility that makes these choices possible. Importantly, families already live in urban areas, but many of them are not part of discussions like the one held in Washington because they are not among the potential residents of new, high-end urban apartments, large or small.