This is the era of the city. It is also the era of the Millennial.
With a growing population of bright, diverse, wired and connected young people who really care about where they live, the two are ideal for each other.
Whether in the developed world, where many Millennials are moving to cities by choice, or in the developing world, where the move is often by necessity, cities are the places where most of the world's greatest economic and social opportunities exist. And for those cities that really want to grow and thrive, attracting this important generation and making cities more hospitable to Millennials is something that should matter to city leaders.
In 2010, more than half the world's population lived in cities for the first time. According to United Nations forecasts, two-thirds of them will live in cities by 2050. Not only will rural residents move to cities, but much of the increase in population is expected to be absorbed by urban areas.
It's important for cities to make themselves attractive to Millennials -- the generation born between 1982 and 2004, which is also sometimes called Generation Y. Millennials are often the labor force that businesses want to hire and train. They are also the entrepreneurs who have the skills and enthusiasm to start new businesses.
From the point of view of a city leader, Millennials are ideal residents. They generally pay a growing amount of taxes while imposing few demands on the city for services. Many don't have school-aged children yet. They generally have few health care needs and they bring enormous energy to a city, embracing new trends, enlightening others with creative ideas, and boldly looking for ways to do things better. The cities that are most attractive to Millennials, then, are also the ones most likely to thrive.
While jobs are the biggest draw for mobile Millennials, cities can make themselves more attractive to the demographic in five ways:
--Affordable housing and right-sized living options are important, especially for young adults entering the workforce. But in some cities, the struggle of starting a career is often complicated by a shortage of affordable housing nearby. Rather than forcing Millennials to retreat to the suburbs to live with their parents, cities and developers working together can help address this with compact, comfortable accommodations close to bus and metro lines, and in walking distance to shopping, restaurants and clubs.
--Cities must be accessible. Quick, reliable, public transportation is a necessity, but access to real-time information about transportation should be available as well. Is the bus running late? Is there a better route? The ability to receive alerts and use apps that tell users the best routes and when a bus or subway will arrive can make mass transit more convenient.
Even city-sponsored bike-sharing programs that rely on data-analysis and transporting bikes from where they're dropped off to where they're needed next are having a significant impact on traffic in some places like Boston and New York.
Beyond transportation, accessibility to real-time information from the city or power utility can alert citizens when to power down and conserve energy to prevent brown outs. Notifications from the parks and recreation department can alert residents to an upcoming 5K or fun run that might be of interest based on a citizen's profile they filled out with the parks and recreation department. Even apps that help citizens find out where to vote and deliver local election results in real-time can provide meaningful information to make cities better places to live.
--Public safety really matters. Cities that lay out new approaches, using predictive analytics and the participation of community groups and businesses to curb crime stand out as places where highly skilled individuals and companies can feel more secure.
--Progressive cities should ensure ubiquitous bandwidth for everyone. Cities can improve public spaces by providing fast, free WiFi almost everywhere. Whether in city parks or shopping downtown, bandwidth today is more than a simple convenience. Consider how tapping the Internet of things allows cities to monitor water usage, helps citizens curb their electricity costs or could potentially alert drivers when a parking spot opens up. The expectation of bandwidth can make cities more livable, easier to navigate and help support local business in their efforts to attract Millennial customers.
--Cities should openly engage citizens and harness the power of social media to make their communities better places to live. Creating cell phone apps people can use to report a broken streetlight is much more efficient than relying on city workers to spot problems. Notification of snow emergencies or traffic gridlock via Twitter or text message can help keep citizens informed. Today's town hall meeting where citizens voice their opinions on city affairs is more often happening online, rather than in person. Understanding social sentiment can help cities foster faster, more-informed decisions that will lead to improved services for citizens and more judicious uses of valuable resources.
Creating cities in which Millennials can thrive and where they will want to spend the rest of their lives takes ingenuity, progressive city leadership and some flexibility. This diverse group of young people is creating real opportunity for growing cities, contributing to economic development and, in the process, making our cities better for everyone.