The Millennial generation says no to suburbs

88% of the Millennial generation wants to live in an urban rather than suburban setting, according to a survey reported on by the Wall Street Journal.

That’s a staggering statistic, with equally staggering implications. There are 80 million Millennials in the United States, which means that even ignoring all other demographics there is an existing market of 70 million people who want to live the urban lifestyle in this country. 70 million! That’s more than the total population of France. It’s five times the combined population of the cities of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington (the six cities often considered to be America’s most urban).

This means there’s an absolutely tremendous unmet demand for urban living in this country, and that there’s an equally tremendous oversupply of suburban homes. It means that it is time to rethink how we define the American Dream.

Some naysayers may suggest this is a blip, that young people have always liked cities, but once they start having children they’ll abandon them for the ‘burbs just like their parents. I dispute that, because I think cities are good for kids too. I don’t intend on leaving my future children trapped in a house that’s only accessible by car, with nowhere to go and nothing to do except play video games in the basement. But that’s beside the point. Even if the naysayers are right, there will still be a revolving door of scores of millions of Americans who want to live the urban life.

This is a big deal, no ifs ands or buts about it.

By | 2011-01-20T08:32:28+00:00 January 20, 2011|Categories: General Urbanism|18 Comments


  1. Dave Barnes January 21, 2011 at 11:10 am

    Let me be a naysayer.
    Kids, schools. Your kid.

    For the most part, city school systems suck. On average, they perform below suburban systems. When it is your kid’s life, you will choose the burbs as only the rich can afford private schools (at $15+K/year/child).

    Smart, middle class parents want the best for the children and therefore the burbs win.

    • The Dirt January 23, 2011 at 10:46 am

      You’re completely right, of course, which is why we see a lot less middle income families around downtown than in the suburbs. However, this is a chicken and the egg problem. DPS sucks because of demographics, which is exactly why it doesn’t in semi-suburban Stapleton. This is a big problem, and I’m having to leave Lower Highland because of it. There are plenty of families around the neighborhood, but they are mostly upper income families that built $1+ million homes or lower class families that have been there for decades. The upper middle class families are definitely not sending their kids to public school.

      • Dan January 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

        What about your kids lives? Statistics show that when you factor traffic accidents in with crime, suburbs are typically more dangerous, more deadly places to live than the city.

        The overall best places to live may be places that offer the best of both worlds, where you get city amenities and good schools. Boulder is one such example (and it’s expensive partly because it’s so all-around desirable). Golden and Englewood could be some day.

        • The Dirt January 26, 2011 at 11:51 pm

          Sure, and I was able to convince my wife to stay in Denver, rather than live in the boonies. What upsets me is we have neighborhoods such as Lower Highland that have turned the cornerin such a way that you have a lower class neighborhood that’s turning into a neighborhood with million dollar homes, or extremely overpriced town homes designed for well-to-do empty nesters. Sure, the average middle class family is a glutton for square footage, and SUVs. They may not appreciate a smaller home with on-street parking, but something needs to be done to bring them back to the city in bigger numbers. This would go a long way toward improving the downtown grocery and retail scene. The fastest way of bringing back the middle class is with good public schools. The fastest way to improve urban public schools is by bringing back middle class families. Bus them in for now, I suppose.

    • Matt Pizzuti January 25, 2011 at 9:55 am

      School and student success has nothing to do with “urban” schools, it has to do with wealth, race, poverty and economic class.

      Go to Denver School of the Arts, an URBAN public magnet school with a high population of students raised by wealthy parents, and find some of the highest student test scores in the state.

      Go to Jefferson High School, a SUBURBAN public school with a high percentage of students below the poverty line, and fine very low test scores.

      I student taught in one such suburban (yet referred to as “urban” because of its racial makeup) school, in college.

      Teachers were ill-equipped to deal with problems the students faced – showing up hungry, being sick but unable to go to the doctor because their parents couldn’t qualify for Medicaid because they were not citizens, being sick but unable to go to the doctor because their parents couldn’t pay but were too proud to accept Medicaid. There were students who couldn’t get help on homework at home because their parents spoke no English. There were students whose parents were incarcerated and were constantly shipping between grandparents, aunts and uncles, and students who – I kid you not – lived out of their parents cars.

      These kids might have teachers who know their content area with the skill and ease of a Harvard professor, but they aren’t going to test well unless they have as many social workers as there are teachers.

      This is a sad fact and not one that I am advocating as the solution, but if you lived in a middle-class neighborhood and put your kids in a middle-class “urban” school, they would be in a school that tests average. If everyone from my generation moves back to the city, that is what we’ll see – an increasing checkerboard of decent schools from middle-class neighborhoods, bordered by struggling schools in poor neighborhoods.

      On the other hand, integration could probably do both sides a lot of good, so I look forward to seeing what kind of changes take place as more kids end up being raised back in the city.

  2. Shane January 22, 2011 at 8:38 am

    Way to play into stereotypes – children “trapped” in basements playing video games in the suburbs. Dude, it’s about parenting-style. I bet there’s as many kids in the city of Denver as in the burbs “trapped” in their basements playing video games (per capita). People go to the suburbs for a different quality of life. Maybe its quieter. Maybe they can get a bigger house at the same price as the one they’re living in. There’s probably just as many reasons to live in the suburbs as not to and it’s about what’s best for you and your situation. You can obviously have a fulfilling childhood in the suburbs just as well as the city. And this is coming from a guy who lives in park hill who’s wife has a bun in the oven.

    Sorry for the pseudo-rant and I do agree the stat, if true, is a big deal. And yes, I know this blog is a urban-centered blog. I also think it’s generally a good thing that people want to live a more urban lifestyle, as it should mean less urban sprawl, which leads to a myriad of problems.

  3. Ryan January 23, 2011 at 10:02 am

    Being part of generation Y or the ‘millennial’ generation, I agree with this article. Not a single friend, neighbor, coworker who’s around the same age as me say that when they have kids they want to live in the suburbs. Everyone’s looking for the Spire, OLP, Glass House living where it’s still a big enough space to have a kid but yet have that urban environment. CPV is a great example of an area with couples just having kids, etc. I’ve met plenty of successful people that went to Denver Public Schools and they always seemed a little bit more cultured versus the others driving Daddy’s Porsche to Highlands Ranch High School everyday..

  4. Warren January 23, 2011 at 10:22 am

    Which school systems get the most funding largely depends on where the most population is located. If more people move to the cities, then the cities will get more school funding. Plus, I’d much rather go to an historic building in an historic neighborhood than a new school or almost new school in a suburban/rural area with nonstop problems, like the ones I went to. Rural school systems are the ones that perform below both Suburban and Urban systems. They are also much more underfunded. They are forced to consolidate and some of my friends were subject to minimum 45-minute car trips down the mountain to school, because they had closed the school in that remote area many years before. I like rural areas and the cities, but the suburbs are not for me and not for many people I know. I am part of generation Y and I can say without a doubt this article holds truth.

  5. Justin January 24, 2011 at 8:40 pm

    The school problem will almost certainly work itself out in our lifetime. School funding is tied to property tax, and as the center city neighborhoods gentrify you’ll see increased property tax flowing into urban school system coffers. Also, as the inner city schools experience greater class and ethnic diversity (as they once enjoyed before suburbanization), a healthier, pluralistic, dynamic will develop and kids won’t have to fight social ills while trying to learn. I point to East High School as the prime local example of what our inner-city schools will eventually look like -highly diverse, excellent programming, and a commitment to the arts as well as sports. We’ve seen the positive changes that Denver’s re-urbanization have organically brought about; look for the education system to eventually reap the same benefits.

  6. Todd January 25, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    The socio-economic status of the parents is a major part of the issue and parent involvement is a huge factor in improving schools. In my humble opinion, parent involvement is more important than funding because schools can overcome a ton of financial obstacles with active parent volunteers and fundraising efforts. In addition, active parents help continue to educate outside the classroom, which is equally important. To quote Mark Twain: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” I have recently thought about how states can create incentives for more parent involvement. For instance, states may be able to offer tax credits to companies that allow parents to volunteer during work hours. All too often, parents do not volunteer because they lack the means; they fear getting fired, their employer will not allow it or they don’t have the time because they are working multiple jobs. Getting more parent involvement in inner-city schools will go a long way toward improving the educational system.

    I moved to Capitol Hill from the CPV three years ago and we have an 8 year old, an 11 year old and an infant in a building with 8 units; and they are not $1 million dollar units. My son (the 8 year old) attends a DPS school in our neighborhood. Approximately 77% of the students currently receive free or reduced lunch. I am committed to volunteering at the school and active in the PTSA. Our PTSA enrolment has doubled since last year and we have another wave of future kindergarten parents already attending meetings, and their children are not even in school yet. This was both surprising and exhilarating to me because it demonstrates how many young parents want to return to inner-city schools and believe public school can provide a quality education.

    If we can improve inner-city (I will refrain from using urban) schools it may single-handedly be the most significant factor in improving our cities. As citizens, it may be one of the most complicated and fascinating project we tackle in the next 50 years.

    • Dan C. January 28, 2011 at 10:31 am

      That’s great to hear about Cap. Hill schools. I live in Stapleton and have 2 kids (not yet in pub. school) and Stapleton was a compromise for us to be near urban Denver, but have good schools. I recently looked up East High and GW High (our current HS district) and was surprised at their poor rankings, East being a bit higher than GW. East seems to have a great racial mix and decent programs for students. But it had me wondering, since all the wealthy people of Park Hill and surrounding neighborhoods would feed into these schools, are the majority of families who are upper middle – upper class sending their kids to private schools? Based on the neighoborhoods that feed into both schools, you would think there would be great socio-economic diversity in these schools too.

  7. Steve Holben January 26, 2011 at 11:22 am

    Slavens School, located in the Wellshire neighborhood, is one of the best DPS schools in the city and this entire region. This has spurred a rennaissance for the neighborhood that includes a lot of new homes and remodeling. Kids own Wellshire because, besides Slavens, there is little traffic (unlike Wash Park) with the golf course being the southern boundary, and the lots are large. One can walk to pretty much any type of retail and the Frederick Ross Library.
    Most real estate people don’t know there are new homes in Wellshire.

    • Aaron January 26, 2011 at 12:30 pm

      I think most real estate people are well aware that smaller older affordable ranch homes in more suburban areas of Denver such as Wellshire, University Hills, University Park, etc. had been torn down and replaced with McMansions that barely fit the lot.

      This happened a lot throughout the 2000’s so if a real estate person was not aware of it and in which neighborhoods it was occurring than they are incompetent. But way to continue to market your property.

      • Steve Holben January 31, 2011 at 1:59 pm

        Aaron. There is nothing new about what I’m doing. It’s been going on for over 100 years. Some neighborhoods are on ther 3 iteration of rennaissance. Most people don’t care much for nimbyism being used to try to push one’s views or “values” off on them.

        • Aaron February 1, 2011 at 2:55 pm

          Seeing as I don’t live in any of those neighborhoods nimbyism doesn’t really apply. If you read those facts to imply that there’s something wrong with what you did in developing that house then you need to look in the mirror as I was not making a judgment on that but was just trying to describe the situation.

          What I was making a judgment on is you marketing your property on a blog that advocates something completely different than what you do. Not only is your post transparent in its purpose as the words are taken directly from some of your marketing materials but it also shows that you are missing your target market.

          Please continue to voice your opinions here as we need some diversity of thought coming from developers who do not subscribe to the new urbanism approach. I actually like seeing those conflicting opinions but I would hate to see the comment sections of these blogs devolve into developers marketing their properties.

  8. Mathew January 27, 2011 at 1:00 pm

    I’ve experienced both worlds, and experience has shown me that urban living produces more cultured kids with a much higher tolerance for diversity. I will never raise children in the suburbs, and while education is important, the freedom to simply BE alongside the life experiences earned from living in the city far outweigh the shiny new textbooks and varsity-dominated conformity of suburban communties.

  9. Paul February 4, 2011 at 9:42 am

    My wife & I are empty nesters, moving into the Spire downtown after spending 14 years in a 2300 sq ft Highlands Ranch home. Prior to that we lived for a few years in south Park Hill. It did seem we were living in a “bubble” in HR. We are social creatures and it can be isolating at times in a suburban landscape (especially after a big snowstorm). I do miss the quiet and the wildlife in our very landscaped backyard with pond. It provided a peaceful sanctuary, but wasn’t too engaging. Guess we need a little of both worlds. Don’t know the answer here really. Living intelligently seems to be the answer; living closer to work (or public transportation) and using less energy. Were suburbs started when we gave up on the cities? Europeans and Asians are living in smaller spaces. Can we?

  10. Anthony February 25, 2011 at 11:11 am

    I’m 26 currently live in Uptown, not only does 88% of my generation want to live in urban areas, but at staggering numbers these young men and women are waiting much long than their parents to tie to knot & have kids aka growing up, according to another WSJ article “Where have the good men gone?”, 1970, just 16% of Americans ages 25 to 29 had never been married; today that’s true of an astonishing 55% of the age group (a point which Europe has already well passed) I guess theres something attractive about being single and living around 200,000 of your peers

Comments are closed.