Asking What Millennials Want Misses the Point of What It Is We All Need

what millennials want

What do Millennials want? It’s a question that’s launched a thousand trend pieces, and while we generally think trend pieces are bullshit and laden with gross generalizations, we also know that we can’t dismiss them all out of hand, because there is the potential to learn something sometimes. (Maybe?) Nothing is trendier right now than Millennials, so it’s been hard to ignore the multitudes of articles centering around this benighted generation, many of which take a thousand or so words to figure out what it is exactly that this generation desires in order to attain… happiness? Success? Personal fulfillment? All of the above? Sure, why not. All of the above!

The latest (and maybe last?! haha no) attempt to be definitive about what millennials want is an article in Atlantic Cities which, first, nods to the ubiquity of Millennial trend pieces (“enough with all this talk about the Millennials already”), before admitting that this generation of Americans—which numbers 80 million strong—is worth paying attention to because of how much they’re already influencing policy, including that which revolves around urban development. This country’s formerly stagnating (if only in terms of population growth) cities have seen a resurgence in recent years as people young and old have left rural and even suburban areas in favor of city life. And while these demographic shifts are partially attributable to aging Americans selling large homes and downsizing to a place that better suits their needs, it’s also a sign, the Atlantic notes of the new environmental requirements of Millennials.

In the past, young professionals might have flocked to cities to start off their careers, but they desired something more for their home lives. Things like large homes, two car-garages (and two cars!), and access to large shopping centers used to matter to people who anticipated settling down and raising a family in a kind of suburban lifestyle that was once the prototypical American Dream, but now feels hopelessly archaic. That dream has withered and died due to our technological advances (who needs malls when we’ve got Amazon drones? nobody, which is why Sears and JC Penney’s are dying) and a new consciousness among young people about the waste inherent with living a suburban lifestyle. That 2,500-square-foot home? Multiple cars and the gas it takes to fill them? Not only will your carbon footprint be enormous, but those things cost a hell of a lot of money to maintain.

And so all of this is contributing to Millennials attitude toward the perfect place to live, namely, they’re looking for urban centers with good public transportation options (“walkable communities” is incredibly important), technologically advanced cities (free WiFi in public spaces? yes, please) and “housing that would allow ‘aging in place.'” Few suburbs offer options like this (and virtually no exurbs or extremely rural locations), which is why Millennials look to cities like New York, Portland, Austin, Chicago, San Francisco, and Boston to suit their future needs. The thing is, though, this isn’t specific to Millennials, or, at least, it shouldn’t be. Too often, in an attempt to generalize about a certain group, the media tries to pigeonhole people and see their wants and needs as being discreet. Such is the case in this Atlantic article, because Millennials are described as being uniquely “competitive and driven, entitled and narcissistic, thoroughly technology-savvy, and more practical than ideological,” all of which are characteristics that are supposed to explain why Millennials—and Millennials alone—are looking to urban environments in which to work and live. The thing is, though, other than maybe being narcissistic, aren’t these all qualities that Americans should have when planning the best future for themselves and this country? Shouldn’t we all be looking for more creative solutions to solving our environmental woes, including limiting our reliance on car culture? And is it such a bad thing to be entitled, when what you feel “entitled” to is a safe, healthy living situation? Maybe it’s time to stop talking about what “Millennials want” and start talking about what we all need—much of which aligns pretty closely with the things young people are demanding be available for themselves.

Follow Kristin Iversen on twitter @kmiversen

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