I guess Petula Clark was just 47 years ahead of her time when she sang the 1964 hit song, “Downtown,” because I attended a fascinating forum last night in downtown Lansing on “Downtown Pioneers – The New Environmentalists.” The forum was sponsored by the Michigan Environmental Council and was held at one of my favorite watering holes, Michigan Brewing Company‘s pub. Got to say this was the first planning-related seminar/conference/forum where a pint of beer was given out for free to attendees. Maybe I ought to suggest that idea to the APA to increase attendance at future conferences? :
I know the term “downtown pioneers” tends to be overused, and will likely be recommended for banishment by Lake Superior State University soon, but it is an accurate description of the ongoing trend. The Millennial generation are gravitating to central cities like no other in recent times. According to one speaker at the forum, “77% of all Millennials plan to live in the center of the city!” That is a staggering statistic.
Communities that work to enhance their downtown and midtown areas with more housing options, greater density, entertainment and dining venues, or retail and especially grocery space, will prosper. Meanwhile, others including the standard, run-of-the-mill, low-density suburb will languish. In Lansing, downtown, Old Town, REO Town, and the Michigan Avenue corridor are seeing renewed life and investment. The same is true in many urban locations across the country.
Other interesting items noted by speakers at the forum, include:
- “Most people live in cities of 80,000 to 300,000 people. Theses the places where one can make an impact and see it come to fruition. Much harder to do in mega-cities like London and New York because of size and scale.”
- Nearly half of those attending last night’s forum already live in the central parts of Lansing (downtown, Old Town, or REO Town).
- “Among the reasons downtown living is considered green because of transportation options and denser land use; more efficient building heating and cooling; and existing buildings are being reused.”
- According to one slide, dropping the ownership of one car can free up enough money to afford a $100,000 larger mortgage.
All in all, it was an informative, fun, and interesting event. As a downtown pioneer wannabe, it certainly provided many insights and increased my excitement at the prospect of living in the center of the city.
Rick Brown is a planner in central Michigan. He is a writer on Pantheos, a new urban planning blog, where "Downtown is the 21st Century Place to Be" was originally published on October 26, 2011..