By Jason Menard
The focus on London’s urban planning seems to revolve around attracting and retaining the cherished millennial demographic: a young, tech-savvy, generation that’s eschewing cars, embracing public transportation, looking to live downtown, and focused on consolidating its living, entertainment, and dining options into a three-block radius.
Millennials: the name has changed, but the song remains the same.
In short, they’re me 20 years ago. Or my parents 40+ years ago. Or my grandparents 60+ years ago. And, chances are, they’re likely the same as you, your parents, and your grandparents were.
There’s a danger in focusing on what the millennials want now, as opposed to planning a liveable city for all. Or, more accurately, anticipating what those same millennials will want later.
Development should focus on supporting people from all walks of life and creating a city that’s sustainable throughout our life cycle — not just focused on one demographic’s temporary needs.
When I was younger, I loved nothing more than the thought of living downtown. As a young man in Montreal, we lived within walking distance of the gay village. I took the Metro to work, we visited our friends who all lived around us (admittedly, we drove), and life was confined to a small part of the island.
And if that’s where I stayed mentally and emotionally, then it would have been fine. But I changed — and many others like me did too.
We moved to the suburbs, then we moved to London. Our friends moved off the island into areas as far aflung as Boisbriand and Brossard.
We bought homes so that our kids could have a backyard in which to play, so we could have a garden to tend, and a home in which to invest. We continued to buy cars to help shuttle our kids to various activities and for our regular drives out of town, visiting friends and family spread out throughout this country.
In our new home, we connected with our communities and supported our neighbours. We joined school boards and community organizations. Our focuses and priorities changed. Just like they did for our parents; just like they did for our grandparents.
Just like they will for the millennials.
Some people are content to live in a city exclusively focused on public transportation and compact design. Others dream of having a home, a yard, and space to stretch out. Some people love the idea of dining out at exciting new restaurants downtown every night. Some find contentment in cooking at home for themselves or their family.
There’s no right or wrong. There’s a balance. And as we grow older and die off, that next generation will move in to take our place.
Attitudes change, priorities change, values change. There’s no one size fits all; there’s all sizes need to fit.
A successful city doesn’t focus on retaining or catering to one group to the exclusion of others; it’s an integration and development of a life cycle that ensures the city is welcoming and supportive of all.
Some people will never take public transit. They’ve bought their cars and they’re going to use it. Do you want to make it more difficult for them to get around your city, or do you want to find a way to integrate both? Some people advocate an exclusive focus on infill, but does that discourage those not in the quote-unquote desired demographic from coming? Where’s the balance?
Conversely, sprawl for the sake of sprawl can’t be allowed to happen either. Suburbanites should be given reason to take public transportation that focuses on meeting their needs, as opposed to relying on social benevolence. It’s about balance.
Today’s buzzword is sustainability, but what’s more sustainable than developing a city that encourages people to grow up, remain, and establish roots for the next generation?
A city is made strong through its diversity. Some people are content spending all of their time in a five-block radius; others enjoy working and playing downtown, but want to raise a family a little farther afield. There’s nothing wrong with either, but there is danger in one taking priority over the other.
Lives change, priorities change, technological needs may change, but desires remain the same. Millennials, Generation X, Boomers… we’ve all wanted the same thing: a home. The successful cities are the ones that not only give people an opportunity to choose the life they want, but support their right to do so.