N.J. Future says suburban demographics don't match popular opinion (slideshow)
New Jersey Future’s director of research, Tim Evans, recently presented a demographic analysis of the state’s suburban population at the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University.
His analysis showed the current distribution of millennials, Gen-Xers and early boomers, in an attempt to give real estate developers a glimpse of where an unmet demand for housing may exist in the coming years.
“A couple of years ago, I was commissioned to do a report about older people and what kind of places they live in, and, are they living in places where they are able to get around when they can’t drive anymore?” Evans said. “To do that, I set out to create a kind of a typology of New Jersey.”
The researcher’s typology was based on net activity density, presence of a mixed-use center, local road density and access to public transportation. Evans then compared the distribution of the typology given to how the percentage of the population in a given area compares to the rest of the state — also known as the location quotient.
“Hoboken, for 22- to 34-year-olds, has the highest location quotient in the state by far,” He said. “The percent of its residents that are between 22 and 34 years old (is) 45.4 percent, compared to only 16.4 percent statewide, to give you a location quotient of 2.77 percent. Another way of saying that is, the Millennials are 177.4 percent more common in Hoboken than they are statewide.”
Evans’ research found Hoboken, East Newark, Hightstown, Jersey City, Harrison and Palisades Park to be the areas with the highest location quotients for millennials in the state.
“If you look at the net activity density first, the higher you are in that category, the higher location quotient is for the 22- to 34-year-olds,” he said. “The more center-like places, the more millennials like it, and the same thing with local road density — the more walkable your street network is, the more it’s going to attract millennials. The places that score well in all those metrics, millennials are 25 percent more prevalent in those places than statewide.”
And based on the same metrics, Evans’ research found that Gen X, 35- to 48-year-olds, are the ones who were most enthralled with the idea of walkable urbanism back in 2000, when they represented the same 22- to 34-year-old age group.
“We were disproportionately concentrated in places that scored well in all three metrics back then,” he said. “The denser and more compact places had higher concentrations of young people when it was Gen X.
“Where has Gen X gone? Now, we’re not quite so in love with the walkable urbanism. Now, we’re slightly overrepresented in the car-needing places, but the baby boomers, when they were ahead of us in that age range, they didn’t like compact, walkable urbanism, either, and they were more overrepresented.
“Although it is true that Generation X has suburbanized as we’ve gotten older, we haven’t gone to the same kinds of suburbs as the generation that preceded us. That might go well for the millennials as they’re aging, too.”
According to his research, the idea of walkable urbanism tends to be seen less favorably with age, with millennials showing the highest desire, followed by Generation X, and baby boomers showing the least interest in it.
Evans also found that the idea of retirees seeking to downsize and move into a walkable urban area seems to disagree with his data, with the large majority of the Gen-Xers and older living in car-depending suburbs, where single-family detached housing is most prevalent.
“People like to repeat that retirees are going to downsize and move to the city, I’ll believe that when I see it in the data,” Evans said.
To further that point, Evans presented a survey showing 71 percent of 50- to 64-year-olds and 87 percent of those over 65 who participated in the survey who said they would seek to stay in their current community as they aged.
“This is going to be a problem if they think they’re going to stay there, because mostly you’re talking about single-family detached housing out there,” He said. “If you already have good bones, if you’re one of those places that score well on my metrics, and it’s not just cities, it’s a lot of older suburbs, you can add to and diversify the housing stock so that you have housing that millennials can afford to move to, and for the baby boomers who do decide to downsize, you can accommodate them.
For real estate developer, Evans said stranded suburban assets may present an opportunity to accommodate millennials and downsizing baby boomers, too.
“You can try to create a brand-new town center, which a few places in New Jersey like Robbinsville or Plainsboro (have), or you can try to take something from the car-oriented suburban era like a shopping mall and try to retrofit it or one of the stranded assets office park, try to turn it into a new center.”