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Monday, Feb. 1, 2016

The Mindset of Millenials

Is this generation the key to growing our downtowns?

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IS THIS GENERATION THE KEY TO GROWING OUR DOWNTOWNS?

Approaching the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, much research and focus is being directed toward the Millennial generation. Businesses and marketing strategists spend a good portion of their time trying to learn more about and attract this generation. As leaders in North Louisiana and around the world plan developments for the next quarter century, they are looking closely at trends and those trends are all about Millennials.

The Millennial generation, sometime referred to as “Generation Y,” are generally thought of as being those individuals who reached adulthood around the year 2000, although researchers use birth dates ranging from the 1980s to around the year 2000 when studying this group.

The PEW Research Center describes Millennials as confident, connected and open to change, and America’s most racially diverse generation to date. The vast data available at pewresearch. org is used to draw conclusions such as, “Now ranging in age from 18 to 31, they are relatively unattached to organized politics and religion, linked by social media, burdened by debt, distrustful of people, in no rush to marry – and optimistic about the future.”

Liz Swaine, executive director of the Downtown Development Authority, explained why and how cities and businesses are focusing on attracting the Millennial generation.

One of those steps is recognizing how Millennials live and work.

“Millennials tend to create their own jobs and be interested in entrepreneurial activities,” she said. “Let me generalize for a moment knowing that every person is different; Millennials are mobile. They tend to not own as much stuff. They love to walk and ride bikes and can be very social.

They enjoy experiential activities. They tend to understand the concept of smart cities and realize that urban sprawl was a really bad idea. Downtown checks every one of those boxes.”

Swaine said the importance of downtowns in any master plan involving the Millennial generation cannot be overstated.

“Every important trend is pointing toward downtowns,” she said. “Downtown residential is up nationwide and manufacturing is moving back to downtowns. We’re seeing the adaptive reuse of historic buildings, the ultimate recycling project. Downtowns are on the rebound and they can help save entire communities.”

Swaine said one key element to the downtown match is that Millennials tend to come without baggage. “They don’t know what ‘downtown used to be’ and so they don’t try to wedge it into that memory or perception,” she said. “They’re just interested in downtown becoming the best it can become now.”

Both Shreveport and Bossier City are putting a lot of thought and effort into attracting more Millennials to the area.

“We need to provide jobs and fun in equal measure,” Swaine said. “If there aren’t wellpaying jobs available or at least the potential to make money, Millennials and others will go elsewhere. Conversely, no one is going to want to cash the paycheck then go sit in an apartment and stare at the walls. That’s where arts’ activities, events at Cohab, film festivals, dog parks, outdoor activities and great restaurants and coffee shops come into play. We definitely have the fun side of the equation under control while we are working on the jobs side.”

Architect Mike McSwain is working with the City of Bossier to repurpose its downtown area beginning this year. “We’re calling it a Downtown Bossier Re-envisioning,” he said. “Actually, it’s a bit different than a traditional downtown.

There’s no courthouse. It’s another kind of urban environment.”

McSwain said the first wave of development for Downtown Bossier is important. “The first wave of roadway and infrastructure [leading to] the Town Center should begin in April,” he said. “They will be replacing primary utilities like sewer and water. There will be new road overlays and those roads will include new parallel parking with dedicated bike lanes. I think in about two years, you’ll see the first fruits of their labors.”

“There are also some other things in the works, such as plans for some mixed-use retail with apartments above it,” McSwain said. “What you’ll be seeing is really progressive stuff, not just in Bossier but in Shreveport and all over the United States. ” McSwain said city leaders have listened to Millennials about what they want in their community.

“One thing we heard loud and clear was, ‘What I want doesn’t exist here.’ They were looking for other unique, weird things and they would reference other cities. They want cool experiences and more original handcrafted artisan-type

goods. That’s what has been neat about the urban environment. Bossier will have an outdoor plaza for daily gather as well as events and more independent retail.”

“I think it’s that mix of housing and this weird retail that’s unique and different that everybody is trying to supply for the Millennials,” McSwain said. “They are the creative engine that are fueling the economy and they dwell on place and experience instead of stuff. The Internet age has made the world a much smaller place. Now you can go anywhere in the world with a phone.”

From a big picture perspective, development plans here to accommodate a changing future and its people are part of a bigger complicated puzzle.

“This is about all of us winning,” McSwain said.

“We’ve homogenized the country. You can travel from New York City to Los Angeles by car and stay in the same Holiday Inn Express with a Walmart next to it and eat dinner at Applebee’s – in every single town along the way. Millennials don’t know that it wasn’t like that 50 years ago. So we’re not re-inventing the wheel for Millennials. What we’re doing is just urban planning at its best.”

Katy Larsen is a Millennial and owns The Agora Borealis, an art market/gallery in downtown Shreveport. Larsen is also an active business leader who has refurbished a strip of buildings on the edge of downtown.

Larsen’s wish list from a business standpoint is more mentoring and education to provide opportunity for those Millennials with their own start-ups.

“We need to be more pro-active in giving them opportunity,” she said. “We need tools and information. For example, Liz Swaine brought me under her wing a little bit. She made me aware of simple things about business, government and rules and regulations. She kept me from getting into trouble. So many Millennials have a spark that just needs to be lit so they can learn and grow.”

From a personal standpoint, Larsen wants to see more options for healthier lifestyles. “We need healthier choices for food and the way we live. We’re also looking downtown for more spaces to lounge and to meet with others. We crave more communication face to face. The town is so spread out at present that more community transportation would also move us into the future.”

Larsen is also a parent and wants to make sure future plans aren’t just designed around singles. “We have no parks downtown for meeting and gathering. We could also use some food places designed for young families. I’m on the NORLA [Preservation Project board] and we’re working on a space like that. We see it as a space where small businesses can come and people can gather, shop and eat with small entertainment events … something small business oriented with a Louisiana flavor.”

Larsen said providing leadership skills and education are the key to any good planning.

“Millennials are more worldly but not in the same sense of what that might have been before,” she said. “They can connect to any piece of the world and find information and run much faster with it.

They have open minds and can be inspired easily. Tradition isn’t holding them back. They can be swayed, but they need the right information.”

“My ideal world is for education to always be right at our fingertips,” she said. “We have the resources. We need to help one another. We need to remind one another as Millennials that, this is about to be our city, our state, our land. We need to keep going.”

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