Millennials, hipness, "rowhouse-y charm," and authenticity
I don't write about it so much anymore (e.g., "(Not) Understanding that DC's competitive advantage rests in part on non-automobile transportation infrastructure"), but I ascribe to the city five competitive advantages which collectively support the city as a place to live, to work, and to visit.
1. historic residential building stock (that is attractive to people with decent incomes who have choices on where they decide to live)
2. an urban design (at least in the core of the city) that favors compact development, mixed use (locating amenities and civic uses close by), walking, and transit
3. history, identity and authenticity
4. a rich transit infrastructure that allows for efficient mobility without having to be automobile-dependent
5. the steady employment engine of the federal government.
I didn't mean in the previous post to sound denigrating.
I just don't see millennials moving to the city being much different from the various other people who moved into the city from the 1960s forward, people who were attracted to urban rather than suburban communities, because of the lifestyle and amenities packages.
The difference is that the attitudinal change is reaching critical mass--although this doesn't mean that everyone wants to live in the city-- and we can't necessarily ascribe this to tv shows like "Friends" and "Seinfeld"--shows set in a city (New York City) and weren't too critical of the city as a city. Note that while Seinfeld used the city partly as a set, in Friends the city was mostly invisible outside of the apartments that the characters lived in.
Maybe we should add "Sex and the City" to this list as well. The show's narrative thrust didn't appeal to me but it showed living in the city to be the thing to do, and many of the shows featured city scenes.
Left: 555 and 559 Massachusetts Avenue NW. Flickr photo by Josh/NCinDC. The building on the right is a condo and the leftmost building is a hotel.
One of the articles in the Post Magazine package discussed the Chinatown-Gallery Place neighborhood, where most of the residential options are new multiunit buildings. From the article:
Chinatown doesn't have everything but it has enough of the right thing to attract millennials by the bunch: central location and multiple enormous, relatively new apartment buildings... The two qualities millennials say the neighborhood lacks -- decent night life and that rowhouse-y charm or 'real' DC -- are just a cab or Metro ride away.Right: rowhouse buildings on 8th Street NE, one block from Gallaudet University. Flickr photo by Elise Bernard.
The point about "rowhouse-y charm" comprising "real DC" is very important, especially because in other new urban writing settings, historic preservation and historic preservationists are usually derided.
I am saddened by the derision because I make the point often that it was the historic preservation movement that stabilized DC, especially the neighborhoods in the core of the city, during the many decades that residential choice trends did not favor urban living.
Millennials are attracted to the city because of its historic buildings and walkable urban design which dates to the Walking City Era (1800-1890) of urban development.
Attractive traditional commercial districts are attractive because of their historic building stock
While the article only mentions it in passing, the nightlife destinations that people are attracted to are also comprised mostly of historic building stock used commercially. Places like Georgetown, H Street, Adams Morgan, 14th Street NW, U Street, 8th Street SE/Capitol Hill.
Many years ago the Downtown DC Business Improvement District produced a brochure that outlined the Principles of Quality Storefronts and Principles of Great Streets. It's long out of print but I scanned a goodly part of it.
New buildings in those places do best when they design and build out their first floor spaces according to the same precepts used from the 1880s to 1930s--high ceilings, large storefront windows, small store widths, frequent entry points, etc.
Cities can't get distracted and must focus on their competitive advantages
For all the talk of arts-related development and the creative class, in many ways it's merely what I think of as "applied Jane Jacobs."
Right: 14th Street NW at night. Flickr photo by Clif Burns.
While she wrote two books specifically about the urban economy (The Economy of Cities and Cities and the Wealth of Nations) the kernel of her economic writings are in the section of Death and Life of Great American Cities when she writes about the need for a large stock of old buildings to support innovation--not necessarily because they were old and we are fortunate that the late 1800s and early 1900s were great times for the creation of architecturally attractive buildings (even if it took us many decades to appreciate it)--but because they were paid off and cheaper to rent (although not when demand is super high and the inventory is fixed).
Living in multiunit buildings enables people to live in the city, but design-wise, maybe it isn't as definitional as the historic residential and commercial building stock dating (primarily) from 1930 and before.
How the hell do we get everyone on the same urban design and placemaking page?
That's the big question.
And I will attempt to answer it later in the week.