locking in 25-34 year-olds turns out to be important (maybe)
Interesting piece in Saturday’s NY Times about how the future of (some?) cities may be tied to their ability to attract the cohort of educated 25-34 years olds, Cities Compete in Hipness Battle to Attract Young.
The demographic driver is yet another Boomer-generated problem:
Baby boomers are retiring and the number of young adults is declining. By 2012, the work force will be losing more than two workers for every one it gains.
Reporter Shaila Dewan talks about cities that are actively trying to ‘recruit’ this age cohort (such as Portland, Oregon, Lansing, Michigan and Memphis), while noting that it is hard to create a marketing campaign that could work.
“What we’re seeing is the jury of the most skeptical age group in America has looked at Atlanta’s character and likes it,” Sam A. Williams, the president of the [Atlanta] Chamber of Commerce, said.

But Mr. Williams acknowledged the difficulty of replicating that phenomenon on purpose.

Had the chamber tried to advertise Atlanta, he said, “we might have screwed it up —because they’re much more trusting of their own network than they are of any marketing campaign.”

Atlanta paid for the study; they win
Atlanta commissioned a study of 1990 – 2000 census data, which showed that the biggest gainers in this cohort were Atlanta, Denver, San Francisco, Portland O and Austin. The biggest losers may surprise you: Washington, Philadelphia, Los Angeles (!) and New York (!!).
One could argue that these data are too old to be useful, as the characteristics of such a small age cohort changes over time. One could argue that trying to chase generational fashion is doomed to fail. One could argue almost anything, I suppose.
Studies like Atlanta’s are common these days. From Milwaukee to TampaBay, consultants have been hired to score such nebulous indexes as “social capital,” “after hours” and “vitality.” Relocation videos have begun to feature dreadlocks and mosh pits instead of sunsets and duck ponds. In the governor’s race in Michigan this fall, the candidates repeatedly sparred over how best to combat “brain drain.”
The data are probably easy to misinterpret, making it difficult to “try” to appeal to this cohort.
At the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce, Tony Crumbley, the vice president for research, said the city and state had done a lot of things right without realizing it, like establishing liberal banking laws that made Charlotte a financial capital, and redeveloping downtown in the 1980s.
“Another thing,” Mr. Crumbley said, “there are more Frisbee golf courses in this area than any other place in the country.”
Still, what works in one city will not work in others, Mr. Cortright said, and not all young people are looking for the same things. He cites Portland’s bike paths, which many point to as an amenity that has helped the city attract young people.
“I think that confuses a result with a cause,” Mr. Cortright said. Portland happened to have a group who wanted concessions for cyclists and was able to get them, he said.
“The real issue was, is your city open to a set of ideas from young people, and their wish to realize their dream or objective in your city,” he said. “You could go out and build bike paths, but if that’s not what your young people want, it’s not going to work.”
hope for Manhattan?
But there is hope for New York (of course). 
They are people who, demographers say, are likely to choose a location before finding a job. They like downtown living, public transportation and plenty of entertainment options. They view diversity and tolerance as marks of sophistication.
Let’s see… downtown living (whatever that is), check; public transportation, check; entertainment options, check; diversity and tolerance, (a hopeful) check.
But, if it comes down to affordability (d’oh) all the checks in the world may not help Manhattan.
© Sandy Mattingly 2006
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