by Joel Kotkin 03/01/2015
The millennial generation has had much to endure – a still-poor job market, high housing prices and a generally sour political atmosphere. But perhaps the final indignity has been the tendency for millennials to be spoken for by older generations, notably, well-placed boomers, who often seem to impose their own ideological fantasies, without actually finding out what the younger cohort really wants. The reality, in this case, turns out far different than what is bespoken by others.
Nowhere is this tendency clearer than in the perception of what kind of life – and what places – will millennials find attractive. Generally, the narrative goes like this: Millennials are different, they don’t care about owning homes, detest the suburbs and would prefer to spend their lives in dense apartment blocks, riding the rails or buses to whatever work they might be able to find.
Urban theorists, such as Peter Katz, insist that millennials (the generation born after 1983) have little interest in “returning to the cul-de-sacs of their teenage years.” Manhattanite Leigh Gallagher, author of “The Death of Suburbs,” asserts with certitude that “millennials hate the suburbs” and prefer more eco-friendly, singleton-dominated urban environments.
Such assessments thrill the likes of real estate speculators, such as Sam Zell, who welcomes “reurbanization” as an opportunity to cash in by housing a generation of Peter Pans in high-cost, tiny spaces unfit for couples and unthinkable for families. Others of a less-capitalistic mindset see in millennials a post-material generation, not buying homes and cars and, perhaps, not establishing families. Millennials, for example, are portrayed by the green magazine Gris as “a hero generation” – one that will march, willingly, even enthusiastically, to a downscaled and, theoretically, greener future.
Joel Kotkin is executive editor of NewGeography.com and Roger Hobbs Distinguished Fellow in Urban Studies at Chapman University, and a member of the editorial board of the Orange County Register. He is also executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism. His newest book, The New Class Conflict is now available at Amazon and Telos Press. He is also author of The City: A Global History and The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050. He lives in Los Angeles, CA.