The world is changing before our eyes.
Circumstances are evolving: new technologies, information revolution, shifting demographics, new ways to communicate, self-driving cars, and changing environmental conditions to name a few. We also see new issues that those changes generate. Chapel Hill is part of the fast-changing world around us.
This is the first in a series of monthly columns exploring what some of these changes mean for planning in our community. Each column will focus on a specific topic. Each will provide information, suggest how that set of changes might impact Chapel Hill, and offer examples of how some other communities are addressing the issues. Each column concludes with references to additional information.
Today’s topic: Our Changing Demographics.
We all know about Baby Boomers – that bump in the age-distribution curve, those born between 1946 and 1965. We’ve all heard about “Generation X” – those born between 1966 and 1978, once considered the younger generation, defining new cultural directions. But the focus now is on those born between 1979 and 1995, “Generation Y.” This group is also referred to as “Echo Boomers” and “Millennials.”
Three things are important to consider.
First: The continuing aging process of Boomers. We hear about housing, health care and lifestyle needs of this group. In 2010, 10 percent of Orange County residents were 65 years old or older (9 percent in Chapel Hill). In 2030 that number jumps to 18 percent. Statewide, one person in five will be 65 or older in 2030. The topic of “Aging in Community” is becoming a compelling reality. Housing needs, market preferences, and transportation options are issues needing attention right now.
Second: The coming-of-age of Millennials. A 2013 report from the Urban Land Institute documents the influence that this group has on shaping growth patterns – spurring more development of compact, mixed-use communities with reliable, convenient transit service. Millennials are just beginning to make their career and housing choices. The ULI report found that 76 percent of Millennials place a high value on walkability in communities.
Third: The surprising finding that, for many lifestyle preferences, Boomers and Millennials want the same thing when it comes to housing: shorter commutes, smaller homes, rent rather than own, live near shopping, dining, offices and public transportation.
The implications of this demographic shift for Chapel Hill include increased demand for housing in downtown and mixed-use areas, increased opportunities for retail businesses in walkable locations, increased need for transit services, and increased opportunity for intergenerational interaction.
How are some other communities approaching these issues?
One new trend is mixed-age housing options in walk-friendly locations. An example of intergenerational living can be seen in Burbank, Cal., where independent apartments are clustered around an arts community that features a theater group, an independent film company and a fine arts collective. Another approach is to encourage a community-wide culture for intergenerational interaction. A model effort is underway in Minneapolis to rally support for these kinds of initiatives. Other approaches include more apartments above shops, and increased development of accessory dwellings in single-family areas. The community dialogue about how best to leverage these shifts and preferences is underway in Chapel Hill. We have a lot to consider.
Want to explore this issue further? Here are some links:
Want to weigh in with an opinion or additional sources of information? Want to suggest a topic for future columns? Send me an email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Possible topics for future columns include Integrating Public Health into Local Plans, Safe Walking, Planning for Self-Driving Cars, and Things Other Communities are Learning from Chapel Hill. Ideas and feedback welcome!
Roger Waldon served from 1984-2005 as director of the Chapel Hill Planning Department, and is a former member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education. He has authored numerous publications, is a regular speaker at state and national planning conferences, and has worked since 2005 with communities throughout the Southeast as a consultant.