Wednesday, January 19, 2011

"News flash: Generation Yers don't want what has generally passed for the American Dream since the 1920s."

Ryan Champlin, a friend, fellow urbanist and Bethlehem transplant, writes about the Wall Street Journal's "Developments" blog post, "No McMansions for Millennials," by S. Mitra Kalita and Robbie Whelan (Jan. 12, 2011).

I hadn't seen the article before the post in Ryan's blog, Bethlehem by Foot, popped up in my RSS feed. He makes some excellent observations about walkable cities, TV culture and new home design (you should read it - seriously).

But the point that stood out to me was the fact that Generation Y (those born between 1980 and 2000, roughly - I'm on the cusp) may need to turn to traditional housing development and public transit because "The Great Recession and its effects on young people’s wages will affect how much home they can buy or rent for years to come."

Many Lehigh Valleyian Gen Xers want to live "where it's at"/in cities until they have kids, then move to the suburbs (where they grew up) to raise their kids. They explain to me that schools are better, houses are larger and newer, and they can afford a nice yard with a fence and a 2-car garage. The suburbs are safer, taxes are (sometimes) lower, and they want to raise their family in a neighborhood with lots of other kids. Some of you might have ended up in the Lehigh Valley for this very reason.

Some members of Gen Y are beginning to have kids. So, Generation Y Lehigh Valley residents, weigh in - what do you think? What's important to you? (And members of other generations... listen up!)


  1. The article along with another article I just read on small spaces ( makes me think Gen Y, with our later in life accomplishments (marriage, kids etc.) makes people desire a graduated college style life. This is what really struck me about my visit to Arlington - it was college only a bit more adult. Of my friends who have reached those milestones, they are choosing their own version of the burbs. Places with cute downtowns like Emmaus or Nazareth - not the Forks Townships of the world. The idea of the "starter" home has gone away with easy credit and people are looking to put down roots a bit more permanently.

    Ultimately, I think my generation first hand has seen what living in a big house in the burbs has delivered - a long commute and high energy bills. Why drive to that restaurant or bar to meet your friends when you can walk there?

  2. Vanessa, I know what you mean about Arlington - definitely "graduate" housing in a literal sense for many residents. Instead of a dining hall, there are great restaurants and Whole Foods. Instead of fraternity parties, kids party at Clarendon Ballroom and Clarendon Grill. Everyone works hard and a lot of people party hard.

    I do love those cottage neighborhoods - they remind me a little bit of Del Ray, a neighborhood in Alexandria, VA, where I seriously considered moving. Maybe not 300 s/f houses - closer to 1,000 s/f. Also some streets in Emmaus, Northwest Bethlehem and Hellertown look a lot like that!

  3. Thanks for the coverage! To me, I think living out in the burbs is at least as (if not more) harmful to children as living in urban areas. The loneliness and lack of diversity and meaningful public space not only makes deviant behavior seem like the only fun thing to do, but it also, I think, has long-term impacts on the way those children think about other people. If we ever want our harsh political environment to settle down, we're not going to get there by continuing to live reclusive and private lives in our inward-focused homes, places of work, and cars. To me, this is much more dangerous than allowing kids to grow up in and explore a sometimes chaotic urban environment. Besides that, perhaps it wouldn't be so chaotic if people who have their lives in order didn't completely abandon it. This is not to mention the fact that youth are far more likely to die in car crashes in the burbs than for any other reason.

    The "better schools" argument is just the same self-fulfilling prophecy as the "cities are too dangerous" argument. The schools are terrible in cities because people with money and direction have abandoned them. Of course they are terrible! And, of course, they are going to get more terrible as one more family decides to take their taxes and functional parenting elsewhere.

    I will forever choose to settle my family in cities... if not in the downtown, then at least in the first ring of historic neighborhoods, where environments are actually places worth caring about and improving, and where children can learn to effectively navigate the world as it is and not as we've tried to make it.