‘Place making’ attracts urban millennials


The concept of place making requires planners and developers to re-examine the importance of everyday settings and experiences that shape people’s lives. Photo via fb.com

One generation’s entire sense of place is changing and with it, possibly, the geography of business.

This population-density shift toward urban centers could be better understood as an opportunity if businesses look at it through the lens of what’s called “place making,” said James Tischler, director of community development at the Michigan State Housing Development Authority.

Tischler specializes in place making and in presenting on it to interested communities. Chalk Grand Rapids up as interested, after his presentation at the recent University of Michigan/Urban Land Institute Real Estate Forum in Grand Rapids.

Place making is the idea that people will live in places that offer the most networks, amenities and resources for a thriving lifestyle, he said, and it should become West Michigan developers’ new way of thinking about existing community and economic development.

“Place making increases prosperity, because it increases the proximity factor by bringing talent, resources and people together,” he said. “We have been among the first (responding to) the need to attract talent. It makes sense in a place-based context, because livable neighborhoods and downtowns attract talent. All the literature shows it.

“The change in demographics is profound for Grand Rapids, as a good chunk of the employment base is made up of the baby boomer generation, which will retire in the next couple years,” he said. “Who replaces them? Millennials.”

Millennials, sometimes referred to as Generation Y, are generally seen as the generation born from the start of the 1980s to the early 2000s. This age group of young talent, Tischler said, shows a very high interest in place-making projections.

Tischler said research shows more than 80 percent of millennials want to live in city downtowns and core places. This record of market analysis and research has been going on for 15 years, he said, proving it’s not a trend, but a cyclical pattern as the millennial generation comes of age.

Based on data that mapped the movements of people in Chicago and Minneapolis, Tischler has noted that a movement from suburban areas into expanding neighborhoods and downtowns is underway.

This cycle could affect not only the buildings in downtown areas, but who’s living in them, he said.

“You’ll see a rise of two- to three-stories buildings, lofts and row houses, townhouses in cities –– and not just in places like Grand Rapids,” he said. “If we need our policy to attract talent for economic prosperity, and talent in the future is more the millennial generation as they grow into adulthood and they are choosing to live in city downtown cores, then these maps are really maps of economic talent. It’s uniform across the United States.”

In terms of what Grand Rapids does on the placement scale, it’s better than most of the other large cities in Michigan, said Katharine Czarnecki, director of community development at Michigan Economic Development Corporation.

Core redevelopment projects in neighborhoods like Wealthy Street, Eastown and East Hills are vital, she said, praising the work of City Planner Suzanne Schultz and the initiatives involving public-private partnerships.

This is especially critical for Michigan, she said, as Gov. Rick Snyder has been a vocal supporter of place making, saying he feels place making and economic development are intertwined.

“You guys have form-based planning, you have your neighborhoods and you have that long-term vision that has made you really successful,” Czarnecki said. “What’s helped make you so successful is the private business involvement. Look at Lansing — we don’t have the business philanthropy that you guys do. So you’ve been able to leverage that private sector to create place making and make your community a better place to be.”

To learn more about place making, visit www.miplace.org.


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