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Survey: To recruit and keep millennials, give them walkable places with good transit and other options

Four in five millennials say they want to live in places where they have a variety of options to get to jobs, school or daily needs, according to a new survey of Americans age 18-34 in 10 major U.S. cities, released today by The Rockefeller Foundation and Transportation for America.

Three in four say it is likely they will live in a place where they do not need a car to get around. But a majority in all but the largest metros rate their own cities “fair” or “poor” in providing public transportation, and they want more options such as car share and bike share.

The survey focused on the “millennial generation” – those born between 1982 and 2003 – because it is the largest generation in history, and it is the age group that any metro area that hopes to be viable in the future has to attract and keep.

Now, one caveat is that the survey respondents are already living in cities, so some self-selection is involved. Interestingly, though, the aspirations hold true even in cities that don’t have great options at the moment. The survey covered three cities with mature transit systems: Chicago, San Francisco and New York; four cities where transit networks are growing: Minneapolis, Denver, Charlotte and Los Angeles; and three cities making plans to grow their systems: Nashville, Indianapolis and Tampa-St. Petersburg.

Millennials like to stay connected when they travel

Millennials like to stay connected when they travel

More than half (54%) of millennials surveyed say they would consider moving to another city if it had more and better options for getting around, and 66 percent say that access to high quality transportation is one of the top three criteria in considering deciding where to live next.

Even in a city like Nashville – a rapidly growing region with limited travel options – a strong majority of current millennial residents agree they “would prefer to live in a place where most people have transportation options so they do not need to rely only on cars” versus “a place where most people rely on cars to get around” – 54 percent “strongly” and 19 percent “somewhat” in agreement.  The trick for Nashville  and its peers will be hanging onto to those residents while attracting other talented young people. While 64 percent in Nashville say they expect to live in walkable places where they don’t necessarily need a car, only 6 percent say they currently live in such a place.

“These findings confirm what we have heard from the business and elected leaders we work with across the country,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “The talented young workforce that every region is trying to recruit aspires to live in places where they can find walkable neighborhoods with convenient access to services, including public transportation. Providing those travel and living options will be the key to future economic success.”

There are lots of other interesting tibits in the survey. You can read the news release here or see the full, topline results here.


  1. Henry Porter

    10 years ago

    Those worth keeping are the ones who care enough to stay and make their communities what they want them to be. Good riddance to those who run off for “better options”.

    • jcmik

      10 years ago

      Though this may sound morbid or macabre, many of the Millennials with whom I have joked about waiting for regressive attitudes (like your own) to “die off”. There is great frustration with the entrenched ways of America’s elders, the unwillingness or inability to accept the new reality of this era and the radical changes that we all need to make to fix our past mistakes.

      A lone twentysomething, fresh out of college, cannot be expected to return to his or her small hometown and convince 10,000 conservatively-minded people to simply reject car-reliant building models and lay down dozens of miles of cycle tracks and sidewalks and rezone to encourage mixed-use development and housing diversity. This is beyond the abilities of any one person or even those of any group that is not pursuing such ends professionally.

      Millennials are tired of waiting. Rebuild, rethink, or relocate.

      • Henry Porter

        10 years ago

        That’s nonsense. Look, I’m in my 60’s and a very strong and outspoken proponent of walkability and bikability. I have been working for decades to make my community more of both. Off and on, I have worked with several millenials who care enough about their community to help achieve such goals. They are the ones I admire.

        IMO, millenials who run off to somewhere that has already fought the good fight and won are lazy millenials.

        A lone 20-something who runs away from the challenge of making his or her community the community he/she wants to live in deserves no respect.

        • ATCA

          10 years ago

          Call us lazy, but faced with scarce resources (time, energy, money), ready-made options (SF, Chicago, New York, even LA), and an entrenched and powerful force opposed to multi-modal development, it doesn’t make sense to return home and hope that our efforts may bring change, maybe, someday.

          Make no mistake, when we make a community our home, we fight for it. But many of the communities we’ve grown up in don’t represent our preferences and don’t connect with us in a deep way.

          And, frankly, there’s nothing wrong with one generation not having the same feelings for places that an older generation has. We are not obligated to want what you want, no matter how it offends you.

      • mike

        10 years ago

        Please do not make he mistake of those in my generation and think that you cannot do anything to change the attitudes of those that are older than you. The only way you can make the change you want to see in the world is to make it a core belief, the kind you want to share with others.

        jcmik, by the time those people you’re waiting for to “die off” do, you’ll want to do more but be faced with a generation that wan’t hear you because you’ll be part of a newly old generation that is in the way of progress.

        • Henry Porter

          10 years ago

          “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.

    • David Nelson

      10 years ago

      Young people move for a few reasons including the opportunity to be somewhere different than where they started. This leads to cultural cross-pollination among other things. The preferences in question do not preclude other factors. It’s a good bet that many people would interpret the question as: All things being equal… However, I have not read the survey in question.

      Also, surveys of future/hypothetical behavior are trickier than surveys of current preferences/behavior. While there are many economic ramifications of our nation’s young adults flocking to walkable places, there remains the growing awareness of that fact. Some people are activists. In my opinion more should be. Others set examples by doing. Although the behavior of millenials may often lack altruism (much like other generations), we wouldn’t even be having this particular version of the discussion if their behavior didn’t suggest it.

  2. keenplanner

    10 years ago

    Realtors have been publishing the property’s Walkscore on listings for a few years now. Increases value and desirability, in general.

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  4. John Holloway

    10 years ago

    Bright, capable young people who had multiple job offers have told us they chose their position at least partly because of the firm’s location. Others have left firms to take offers at companies whose locations they preferred. The consensus is that they didn’t want to be “stuck” in the suburbs with fewer options. They tell that walkable downtowns aren’t just “cool.” They fit their preferred lifestyle that does not revolve around car ownership.

  5. Joseph

    10 years ago

    I’m a Millennial not living in a city, but just on the outskirts of one. I chose to move to a town in South Jersey just outside of Philadelphia that has an amazing, walkable downtown and is a quick train ride in to Center City Philadelphia, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s not just cities, but the older suburban towns just outside of cities that people my are (I’m 30) are moving to. We really should be working on these issues as entire regions, not just as cities.

    • Ben

      10 years ago

      I’m in a similar situation, although I had the pleasure of growing up here as well. I grew up in Evanston, just outside of Chicago and after 10 years of searching for a better place to settle, I ended up back where I started. It’s access to Chicago while maintaining it’s own narrative is quite attractive to me and others at my lifestage (also 30 but married with two young children). Millennials want responsive communities which will provide what they’d like to have. To argue that we’re somehow “expectant” or “opportunist” is just not valid. Some methods become obsolete while others stand the test of time. Sitting there arguing the counter proves the point — we’re next in line so help us, don’t fight it.

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