Before the Covid Pandemic hit in early 2020, big cities like Los Angeles and New York City were all the rage. Young people were quick to move out of their small-town homes and flocked to the big cities looking for excitement they knew they couldn’t get back home. In fact, in 2017, the average price per square foot in New York City was $1,775.
Fast forward to 2021 and that price has dropped down to a mere $1,378 per sqft. Why exactly is that? For starters, newly implemented social distancing measures made it difficult for life in the city to remain enticing. With businesses shutting down and others limiting capacity, the appeal of big cities quickly started diminishing. The downstream consequences of the Covid Pandemic will not be realized or fully understood for years to come. Remaining socially distanced from others during the lockdown has forced many to reevaluate their reasons for maintaining an urban lifestyle. The explosion of remote work and the alterations made to work culture over the past year have encouraged many to look to settling beyond major cities. With states like California and New York losing more residents than they gain, there has been an increase in interest in states like Florida, Idaho and Texas.
Social Distancing in Affordable Locations
People have returned back to their suburban and small-town homes to socially distance with family in more affordable areas. It’s difficult to predict whether these individuals will remain in their hometowns or if they will opt to return to the big city life once the pandemic is officially over. However, this is a highly opportune time for small towns and rural communities to begin strong attraction and retention efforts aimed at Millennials and youth. After encountering the economic constraints put in place because of Covid, there is a demographic shift to lively, smaller cities with affordable housing. Enticing workforce-ready, competent young adults that are looking for a place to start a family should be a high priority for local governments.
Small-Town Feel and Big City Opportunities
I spent my childhood moving around the country. I’ve lived everywhere from big city condos to small-town single-family homes. What I appreciated the most out of big-city living are the opportunities that were available to me and the persisting possibility of novelty. It would not be a reach to assume the majority of young people feel similarly. The truth is young people yearn to live their life to the fullest. Moving to a big city entails adventure, professional opportunities, cultural experiences, and diversity of thought. While big cities are abundant in these aspects, they are certainly not limited to these areas.
Small towns can start making changes that will appeal to younger demographics. Encouraging them to move back to the communities they grew up in. I’ve compiled a list of ten key components that are attracting youth to move to bigger, more populated cities. Prioritizing these key components in small-town communities can lead to an influx of younger populations
10 Components for Attracting Youth
1. Attracting Youth: High Speed Internet
It is not a controversial statement to say that life in the 21st century is going entirely virtual. From students accessing assignments online to everyday citizens completing their grocery shopping via delivery applications, internet access is absolutely crucial, especially given the prevalence of remote work during the Covid Pandemic. Access to reliable high-speed internet has never been more important. Expanding internet and fiber optic coverage into rural areas is a must. Some states have begun encouraging this development through legislation. The state of Oregon, for example, has proposed a statewide broadband plan aiming to promote access to broadband services for all Oregon residents in order to improve the quality of life. While being able to expand internet coverage might be beyond a small-town community, the development of libraries and internet cafes is a good step in the right direction for attracting youth.
2. Attracting Youth: Cultural Amenities
Entertainment and socialization are both highly valued by youth. Like I previously mentioned, young people want to experience excitement and adventure and often seek these in the form of entertainment. Music festivals, nightlife, art galleries and beer gardens have come to be expected. Young people value spaces where they can mingle and expand their social circle, spaces that are highly sociable, offer alcoholic beverages and ensure a good time with an energic environment and modern-day music. Going out on a Friday night after a hard week of work will always be enticing for younger populations.
If the spaces are not provided, young people will be less likely to feel like they are getting the most out of their youth. As a result, they will move to the cities that do provide exciting nightlife and opportunities for mingling. Small towns struggle to attract youth because they have “nothing to do”. Investing in these spaces and providing environments where young people can distress and feel carefree is crucial for their retention.
3. Attracting Youth: Public Spaces
Places that are successful in attracting millennials often prioritize socialization. These are so-called ‘third places,’ locations other than work and home. We’ve already talked about entertainment spaces, but sometimes those aren’t quite enough for the retention of youth. Young people enjoy areas where the community can gather for social events and community planning. Parks and other green spaces have shown to draw a variety of populations, including young people. The development of green spaces is beneficial for attracting youth. They are also great for the overall health and closeness of the community.
4. Attracting Youth: Co-working Spaces
Co-working spaces allow an individual to both get out of the house during isolation and get work done. If there’s one thing the Covid Pandemic demonstrated it is that working from home is entirely possible. More and more companies will opt to offer their employees the option of working from home. As a result, the desire for productive environments will continue to increase. Moreover, millennials are quickly entering the age where they have begun establishing life-time careers. Having environments where these individuals are encouraged to expand their craft will foster the retention of younger populations. This is also a great way to foster an entrepreneurial culture and expand small businesses in the community.
5. Attracting Youth: Lively Downtown
This is where the importance of Main Street revitalization efforts comes into play. The heart of the city lies in the center of town. As such, these areas should be representative of the community and offer a variety of opportunities for shopping and activities that are appealing to younger populations. Young people enjoy shopping in niche businesses that are locally owned and operated. They enjoy having the option to walk around a colorful town in-between breaks and after work. A downtown that lacks these aspects will be discouraging for visitation and further result in the migration of young people towards livelier cities.
6. Attracting Youth: Entrepreneurial Culture
A high percentage of young people want to own their own business. Having an environment conducive to that is highly attractive. Financially incentivizing moving or having co-working spaces are great examples of an entrepreneurial feel about the town.
7. Attracting Youth: Accessibility
Bike-ability, walkability and public transportation have become core components in the search for where to live. This is not only for the convenience but also because of the financial, environmental and health impacts biking, walking and public transportation have. It is no surprise that millennials and other young populations are making a switch to healthier living. With the rise of concern for climate change, many have made reducing carbon emissions a personal priority. Some have begun using public transportation, biking, and even walking to their destinations. Having several low-cost means of transportation around a city has become a very important amenity. Investing in infrastructure that includes sidewalks, bike lanes and wheel-chair accessible amenities will encourage young people to remain in rural communities.
8. Attracting Youth: Local Public Markets
Young people have increasingly become more interested in ethical consumption and have opted to shop locally rather than from corporate companies. As a result, many young people buy their produce at events like Farmer’s Markets that additionally shape a location’s local food economy. Furthermore, farmer’s markets can help make local farmers more profitable; a win-win for everyone in the community.
9. Attracting Youth: Restaurants, Craft Breweries & Distilleries
Millennials spend more on dining out than any other generation. Furthermore, a rise in vegetarianism and veganism has resulted in young people moving to cities that offer these sorts of food options. To put it simply, rural communities are often lacking in restaurant variety. More often than not, rural areas are abundant in fast food chains and fail to provide options for those with restrictive diets. Encouraging the development of diverse eating locations will be appealing for the retention of young populations who stray away from a traditional diet.
10. Attracting Youth: Good Jobs and Good Schools
Good jobs and good schools are a must when it comes to enticing young families. One of the absolute most important factors young people consider when looking for a place to settle in are the available work opportunities. Work deserts and poor school systems can be quite discouraging for initials who are looking to expand their careers. Creating jobs for a variety of careers is crucial for the retention of young professionals. If the work opportunities are not available, no amount of entertainment, green spaces, or sociable environments will be enough to retain young people in rural communities.
In conclusion, young people value diversity of opportunity in any regard. Feeling stuck in an environment with little to no room for growth and improvement can be anxiety-inducing and discouraging. Millennials seek to find themselves in areas where they can expand their knowledge and craft while also being able to destress in fun and sociable environments where they can enjoy the best years of their lives. While implementing every single one of these environments can be a difficult task to accomplish, it is certainly a great investment for the overall development of a community.
Learn more about how Main Street Organizations can contribute to reducing population decline through Strategic Planning this article 10 Ways Main Street Orgs can realize their community’s dream.