Gen Y, Gen X, Boomers: What they want in a neighborhood

Millennials in the Charlotte region were more likely than other age groups to consider themselves "city people." Photo: Nancy Pierce

Are Millennials really so different from other generations? When it comes to housing preferences and opinions, the answer seems to be: Yes. And no.

A ULI Charlotte survey prepared by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute that was released Thursday of Charlotte region residents asking about views on housing, transportation and community found some commonalities among all generations, and some notable differences.  For example:

Click image to download report
  • Members of the Millennial generation (ages 18 to 35) are more interested than older generations in housing that’s closer to work and school.  Among Millennials, 86 percent said proximity to work and school is desirable or critical in choosing their next neighborhood. That compares to just 50 percent of Baby Boomers.  
  • Millennials are more interested than older generations in the availability of public transit. This was important to 25 percent of young Millennials (ages 18 to 24), compared to 12 percent of Baby Boomers.
  • More Millennials – 56 percent – think of themselves as “city people” than do older generations. Only 31 percent of Millennials consider themselves “suburban people,” compared to an even split of 42 percent “city people” and 42 percent “suburban people” among older groups.
  • All ages agree in wishing for better bicycle amenities. Nearly all of the 1,580 respondents with bicycles – 88 percent, and 93 percent of the Millennials with bikes – want to bike more. And 74 percent said they’d bicycle more if they were separated from motor traffic by a physical barrier.

A report released Thursday details findings from a study by the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute for ULI Charlotte, a District Council of the Urban Land Institute, a national nonprofit group that focuses on urban planning and real estate development. The online survey, administered in August 2016, drew 2,984 responses from residents of Mecklenburg and seven contiguous counties: Cabarrus, Gaston, Iredell, Lincoln and Union counties, and Lancaster and York counties in South Carolina.

The study looked in particular at preferences by generation, focusing primarily on Millennials and Baby Boomers. The generational breakdowns were: young Millennials, 18-24; older Millennials, 25-35; Generation X, 36-51; Baby Boomers, 52-70; and Silent Generation, ages 71 and older.

In many ways, preferences were shared across generations. Some examples:

  • 85 percent of all respondents said they’re satisfied with the quality of life – a slightly lower percentage than in a national sample (87 percent).
  • Satisfaction with housing affordability was much lower. Only 47 percent are satisfied. Although 66 percent are satisfied with the range of housing locally, satisfaction with range of housing nationally is 81 percent. (It is important to note that the scales between the local and national responses were slightly different with the Charlotte region survey including a “neutral” option.)
  • Most transportation happens alone – 81 percent drive alone daily.
  • When choosing up to three characteristics they like best about their current neighborhood, 39 percent said “safe neighborhood.” This was the top response, among 13 options, for all age groups.
  • Proximity to work or school was ranked the second most important current neighborhood characteristic for Millennials and Generation X, but wasn’t in the top five for Boomers or Silents, two groups who like the fact their neighborhood is quiet.

One other difference between Millennials and respondents older than 70 was worth noting. Asked for their top three places for getting together with friends, for all generations but the oldest the top three were restaurant, home or bar/brewery.

Among older Millennials, 72 percent listed bars/breweries. So did 56 percent of young Millennials, 51 percent of Generation X-ers and 28 percent of Boomers. But only a handful of those in the Silent Generation preferred bars/breweries for gathering spots. In addition to restaurants and home, their other preferred spot for socializing? At church.

Chart: Diane Gavarkavich

Results of the survey were presented to members of ULI Charlotte at a Thursday breakfast, with a panel discussion following.  Panelists and audience members focused on the need for more affordable housing, and on the importance of public schools.

Peggy Hey, executive director of facility planning and management for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, pointed to the comparatively low ranking of public education in the list of what the survey respondents looked for and valued in neighborhoods. “I’m just taken aback by that,” she said.

And panelist Debra Campbell, an assistant Charlotte city manager and former planning director, talked about the need for developers to help with the affordable housing problem. “We need 34,000 affordable units,” she said, as the city is losing affordable units to demolition and new construction, and they’re not being replaced at the same rate. “We need developers to step up and say, ‘We want to help.’ ” 

Click image to download Dec. 1, 2016, presentation at ULI Charlotte breakfast meeting.