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Demographics Matters


According to market analysts Todd Zimmerman and Laurie Volk, the majority of these demographic groups wants to live in a walkable community – that’s around half the country’s population; at the same time, only 0.55% of developed land in Atlanta qualifies as a walkable urban place (Leinberger; image: ZVA)

Over the past year we have been exposed to a barrage of extremely interesting and eye opening reports, presentations, and books on demographics.  These reports all indicate that the majority of Millennials and Baby Boomers want the same type of housing option – something located within a walkable community – and are increasingly willing to accept smaller, connected units to accomplish this.

Gen Xers like myself often get passed over in these demographic studies because the numbers are just so, so large for Millennials and Boomers.  However, the housing preferences for us are not dissimilar to other groups.  One question to ask is what groups are left not wanting walkable urbanism?  Just the Greatest Generation and children?

One of the biggest statistics that really hit home came from Chris Leinberger of George Washington University. In his 2013 study of Walkable Urban Places (WalkUPs) in Atlanta, Leinberger found that only 0.55% of development in metro Atlanta meets the criteria desired by more than half of these demographic groups – an overwhelming disparity. Urban planner and author of Reshaping Metropolitan America Arthur C. Nelson has stated that we will need to build or redevelop walkable places for the next 30-40 years just to catch up to today’s demand.

One very interesting immediate way this is playing out is in Boomer-focused intown living options.  Neighborhoods like Inman Park, Druid Hills, and Ansley Park are full of beautiful old homes owned by aging folks that are realizing that their 3,000-6,000 SF mansion is no longer worth the time and effort required for maintenance and upkeep.  To many in this situation, it is far more appealing to sell and downsize to an apartment or condo and spend that time and money travelling the world or pursuing an interest.  The strong preference is to downsize within the current neighborhood to maintain social ties, making our significant lack of dignified housing choices in these neighborhoods is a new and growing problem.

We want to share a few of the most impactful of these reports with you.  Atlantans should definitely take a look at Leinberger’s report, which has a ton of neighborhood-specific information. The other links include a short blog post from Placemakers, a one-hour video of Arthur C. Nelson discussing development trends, and Nelson’s book, which is well worth buying.


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