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Why the Millennial City is a necessary one: Planning for generational and climate change

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Millennial book cover with titleIn their new book, The Millennial City: Trends, Implications, And Prospects For Urban Planning And Policy, University of Waterloo researchers Markus Moos and Tara Vinodrai, along with Deirdre Pfeiffer of Arizona State University unpack how a generation defined more-often by stereotypes than statistics will leave their mark on our cities.

Millennials are having an undeniable impact on cities through their decisions to live closer to public transit, in walkable neighbourhoods, and trading material consumption for experiences. In their new book, the Faculty of Environment professors detail how millennials have tremendous capacity as the most educated and racially and ethnically diverse generation. This influence is shaping urban regions, and becoming a driver for the type of planning required to reduce greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change. 

However, recent developments such as Brexit and the election of Donald Trump raise questions about whether millennials can realize their urban aspirations and reduce the carbon footprint of their lifestyles and transportation patterns.

Tara Vinodrai“In both the case of the US presidential election and Brexit, the statistics and popular discourse underscore strong generational and geographic divide, in which the majority of urbanites and millennials favoured outcomes that ultimately were on the losing side of history,” say the authors. “And in each case, the rallying cry was that older generations voted against of the millennial and future generations deepening an already wide governmental divide. The fallout from these political shifts underway will undoubtedly (re)frame the urban experiences of millennials… This could very well be the defining moment of the millennial city.”

In their analysis, the authors challenge the conventional wisdom that millennials live a monolithic existence in downtown neighbourhoods near cafes, public transit and other amenities. The Millennial generation, who are both politically confined to and empowered by their urban preferences, are highly diverse and many face housing affordability and labour market constraints.

“Not all millennials may want to live near transit and urban amenities, but the realities of climate change dictate that we should be planning for the kinds of cities the stereotypical millennial wants”, says Moos.

Markus near bikesThis book assesses the impact of millennials on cities and explores the urban planning and public policy implications that arise from these generational shifts, and why they cannot be ignored, regardless of who holds the reigns of political power. It also provides guidance to planners and policymakers on how to think about millennials in their work and make decisions that will allow all generations to thrive.

Planners and policymakers, many of them millennials themselves, have the opportunity to shape the next urban transformation. The time to harness the millennial generation’s creativity in planning for more environmentally sustainable, climate friendly, and prosperous cities is now.

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