Planning Tomorrow's Urban Neighborhoods Today

Last week, you might have read a Gizmodo article about how millennials will live in cities unlike anything we've ever seen before. If you haven't read it yet, I highly encourage you to, because, unlike so many articles in the media today, this one does an excellent job of capturing the nuances of why we are seeing certain behavioral patterns among millennials when it comes to where we live.

The critical takeaway from this article is one that has major implications for us in Chapel Hill/Carrboro: Millennials are choosing to live in urban neighborhoods, but not necessarily in urban downtowns.

This behavioral pattern shows that what millennials value is not the big city life itself, but having easy access to amenities like walkability and public transit. For suburbs around the country, this means attracting the next generation of Americans requires urbanizing to provide these kind of amenities.

Chapel Hill is uniquely positioned to be a leading small city for millennials. Thanks to the urban services boundary, we have not sprawled out. Chapel Hill Transit is fare-free and already provides excellent transit service for an area of our size. UNC anchors our local economy and has the potential to fuel job growth in the private sector to attract and retain millennials seeking meaningful, cutting-edge jobs. Recent decisions by the Chapel Hill Town Council, including mixed-use, urban-style development at Obey Creek and the Ephesus-Fordham form-based code, will help reshape and strengthen areas of town in a positive way.

What our community must do now is leverage the assets we have to chart a path forward that will enable us to attract and retain the next generation. Planning for the next generation will ensure that our communtiy remains vibrant, exciting, and prosperous. Achieving this means getting serious about in-fill development; creating private sector jobs in Chapel Hill and Carrboro; expanding transit service; and shaping our neighborhoods to be better connected, walkable, and more mixed-use in design.

The indicators show that Chapel Hill-Carrboro has incredible potential to lead the way into the future of American cities. The only question is if our leaders will seize this potential or let it pass us by.

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