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In 2010, Millennials, or those between 18 and 34, surpassed the Baby Boomers in population size. Today, Millennials, also known as Generation Y, make up over 25 percent of the United States’ population. In Omaha, they make up 26.9 percent of the population. The next largest generation in Omaha, the Baby Boomers, make for 19.2 percent of the population. Clearly, this emerging demographic has the ability to change the way we create and design our built environment if it so chooses.
To review how this generation may choose to change the way we design our future neighborhoods, national trends were reviewed to establish a broad understanding of Generation Y. On a national level, trends have shown that Millennials continue to prefer the single-family home, much like previous generations, and also see it as an investment. Many currently prefer to live in downtown and mixed suburban areas and expect to in the future as well. When it comes to their neighborhood, Millennials on a national scale prefer to live in smart growth-esque neighborhoods with sidewalks and a mix of amenities like a grocery store and schools within walking distance. In addition, walkability and public transportation is more important to this generation than any other. But, all of this is with reservations. Many still see the appeal of single-family only neighborhoods and large lots, and demand the availability of parking.
The scope was then taken to Douglas County and Omaha to gain an understanding of our local Millennials. First, a general profile of Millennials was performed to understand where exactly Millennials are clustering, what they look like demographically, and where they are moving. It was found that many Millennials are clustering in Northwest Omaha and in central locations near Midtown, Downtown, Hanscom Park, and the Old Market. It was also found that while this generation in Douglas County may be highly educated, they may be paying for it with large amounts of student debt.
Four sources of input were used to gain an understanding of a segment of Omaha Millennials. First, an online survey gauged the preferences and expectations of 157 participants living in Midtown. It was found that a strong majority of the participants favored a neighborhood that was described with smart-growth-esque qualities. The most important neighborhood characteristics to the participants were the ability to have retail, schools, parks & green space, food related amenities, and recreation facilities within walking distance. In addition, it was important to have sidewalks and things within an easy walk, easy access to the highway, high levels of human activity in the neighborhood, and privacy.
A visual preference survey was also used to gauge forty-two participants’ gut reactions to photos of a variety of different urban and suburban environments. The most popular photos were described as “dense”, “close-knit”, “lively”, “vibrant”, and full of “community” and illustrated main streets and dense urban areas. The least popular photos were described as “uniform”, “faceless”, and “cookie-cutter” and were mainly disliked due to a dominance of automobile orientation in these photos.
Third, a series of focus groups brought together six Millennials on three occasions to discuss what the participants liked and disliked about their neighborhoods and what they felt Omaha was missing. It was found that a sense of community, walkability, and accessibility and proximity to amenities was most important. In addition, it was felt that public transportation was the most pertinent issue in Omaha when it came to making the best environment for Generation Y.
Finally, a series of seventeen interviews were conducted with a variety of real estate agents, bankers and lenders, developers, planners and designers, and local experts and politicians to obtain a necessary perspective on the changing atmosphere of neighborhood design and development in Omaha. Several trends in local real estate development such as changing household typologies and housing tenure patterns were revealed. Additionally, there was uncovered a set of obstacles that young families often face in Omaha. Deemed the “triangle of conflict”, there seems to be conflicts in which young families with modest budgets and student loans, is in need of good schools, yet demands walkability and access to Downtown are out of luck.
In the end, it is found that the Millennials we received input from have inherited many of the preferences for single-family-home-only neighborhoods and automobile orientation. Yet, there are changing and nuanced priorities, preferences, and demands for qualities such as walkability and vibrant public spaces which lead us to reconsider the way in which we are designing and constructing our neighborhoods today and makes us question whether a change is coming in the near future to Omaha.
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