Sunday, October 19, 2014

As Baby Boomers age, are commercial districts poised to make a comeback?

The Shoppes of Avondale, Jacksonville, FL -
are walkable mixed use communities like these poised
to see an influx of Baby Boomer residents?
Is your downtown ready to take advantage of the downsizing Baby Boomer? Downtown Seattle, specifically the area surrounding Pike Place Market is one community seeing a growth in residential development fueled by aging Baby Boomers. In August of last year, the Wall Street Journal reported ("Hip, Urban, Middle Aged", WSJ, Aug. 2013) that a 34-unit condo with prices hovering over $1 million mostly went to Baby Boomers, many of whom were leaving their larger homes in suburban areas and heading to older, more walk-able urban neighborhoods. A recent study that LOA completed in Seattle found a similar trend - the projected Median HH Income growth rate in the downtown area over the next five years is 6.6% - significantly higher than that of Seattle as a whole, which is 4.39%. These "moneyed buyers [have] created a gold rush" according to Seattle realtor Dean Jones. In Denver, one resident quoted specifically mentioned the desire to "stop driving so much". The Washington Post went so far as to announce, "The kids gone, aging Baby Boomers opt for city life"(The Washington Post, July 2013)

This specific issue - what to do as Baby Boomers age and cannot drive - is increasingly fueling planning that must, by necessity, include downtown and mixed use districts. This week, the New York Times wrote about just this kind of retirement planning, "When Planning for Retirement, Consider Transportation", NYTimes, Oct. 2014. The couple profiled live in a San Diego neighborhood where "If you don't have a car, you're stranded". They are now exploring public transportation options that are weak at best, and are considered moving, but aren't quite ready to make the leap just yet. 

Another issue is the fact that transportation - specifically personal ownership of an automobile - eats up a huge percentage of income (25% according to the Federal Dept. of Transportation). As people age and move to fixed incomes, the need to reduce these costs become necessary, and the ability to live close to work, shopping, eating can reduce transportation costs to 9% of income.  

Moving to a more walk-able neighborhood seems like a great option as people age, but how do we reconcile the fact that, according to an AARP survey, 87% of people age 65 and older want to remain in their current communities? The good news is that the study found that this preference decreased with income.  ("Home and Community Preferences of the 45+ Population, AARP, Nov. 2010). 

Developers are also taking note. Toll Brothers, a home builder known more for their suburban tract housing than for their urban projects, has increasingly started developing in the urban core. Initially, they thought their projects would be filled with young people, but they sold a much larger than expected percentage to Baby Boomers. 

So it seems that yes, Boomers are creating a dynamic shift towards urban communities. Is your community seeing a similar demographic trend?

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