Midsize cities like Lincoln are attracting more young people to live in their downtown areas because they offer some urban amenities without the high housing prices of superstar cities, according to a consultant hired to work on a new downtown master plan.
This reverse migration -- away from cities such as Nashville, Denver, San Francisco -- is one of the newest downtown trends, said Bradley Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates, or P.U.M.A., the lead agency in development of the master plan.
Young people are flocking to mid-tier cities, where the costs are lower, there is a great quality of life and they have a chance to become involved in civic affairs, he told the more than 200 people who came to a public meeting this week where consultants described the trends globally and gathered ideas from participants on what they would like to see in downtown Lincoln.
More and more downtowns are turning into neighborhoods, with different housing options and amenities, he said.
Segal described some other new realities.
Because of the national debt -- which has grown from $29,000 per capita in 2007 to $63,000 per capita today -- the federal government cannot spend what it has been spending and cities can’t rely on the federal government for infrastructure, innovation and education funding. Instead cities will have to focus on working together regionally, he said.
Segal drew applause for several observations, including the continued desire from Lincoln residents for a full-service downtown grocery store, for additional downtown parking and for more housing for adults who are not students.
Segal said he expects the city’s new downtown bike share program to be successful because it includes a college campus.
And bike lanes, he said, can be part of the image and perception that draws young people to a city.
In Denver, employers -- not “the environmental or bike-crazy people” -- wanted bike lanes because of demand from their young workforce, he said. The employers didn’t care if people used the lanes; they wanted them to be part of the image of the city, he said.
Entertainment, planned events and programming will draw more people downtown, said Segal, who noted few people in Lincoln live more than 20 minutes from the downtown area, which is a very short commute compared with cities like Denver.
He jokingly suggested there may be no hope for some of the people who won’t drive 15 minutes to get downtown.
Cities that want to create successful downtown areas will have to pay attention to the growing economic inequity and create opportunities for a variety of people, not just tech workers, he said.
Segal also described the generational groupings and their potential impact on the downtown of the future.
* Millennials: Ages 20 to 35 "are going to save us from everything." This is an important generation. Every city is competing to keep or attract people in this generation, who are generally “optimistic, tolerant and who are redefining adult milestones." For example, his youngest son lived in his basement for a year and a half after college, Segal said.
This generation could be half of the workforce by 2020 and 75 percent of the workforce by 2025. Cities need to make sure they have a downtown that this age group wants to live in.
* Generation X: Ages 35 to 49. This generation, which used to be called "slackers," has grown up. They have the most disposable income and are moving into leadership positions.
* Baby boomers: Over age 50. This generation shaped a lot of the post-World War II era and was hard hit by the recession 10 years ago. “A lot of us are aging in place and that is good news for downtowns,” he said.
* Generation Z: The 70 million-plus born after 1996 have grown up in fairly turbulent times with a 24-hour news cycle and are, in general, less interested in college when they can take an eight-week coding class and make high salaries and as they see their older brothers and sisters move back home with giant college debts. They may be more materialistic than millennials, he said.