Peak Millennial – Peak City?
Pondering the Future of Cities
Millennials, the much-discussed generation credited with (or blamed for) changing everything from where people live to what they eat and drink, are growing up. The oldest, in fact, are now approaching forty years old. And, as people in that age group have always done, some of them are having kids, buying homes and trading their urban playgrounds for more space in the suburbs. As a result, many have begun to wonder if this whole urban thing was just a fad. Will all those swanky new-build apartments have a market in ten or fifteen years? After all, these would hardly be the first high-end neighborhoods to fall on hard times due to changing preferences.
As service-oriented business owners, dentists need to go where the patients are. Should the presumptive population growth in urban settings fail to materialize or even reverse, practices with long term leases in these markets could be in for a tough time. This is not to say that such a change in migration patterns is guaranteed, or even likely – the jury is still out on that and only time will tell. In the meantime, experts have come to an array of conclusions ranging the full spectrum of caution to optimism. Here’s a brief synopsis of a few key arguments and their timeline;
What the Experts Say
Back in 2015, Professor Dowell Myers at the University of Southern California concluded that Millennials were soon to head for the suburbs as the largest cohort (born in 1990) was passing the age of prime central city living. The claim drew headlines in national publications and has been among the most influential in attempting to answer what’s next for the consumer preferences of America’s soon-to-be largest generation.
But not everyone agrees. Of the contrasting opinions, Joe Cortright of City Observatory, an urban advocacy site, authored one of the most persuasive. The piece argues that the 1990 cohort is only a small blip on the birth year radar and that the number of young Americans will continue to increase as the next generation, Gen Z, transitions into young adulthood. Essentially, Mr. Cortright says that studying Millennials is misleading as “Millennial” is no longer synonymous with “young”. Of note, TIME later published another widely shared article asserting that some cities were already experiencing Peak Millennial. City Lab then wrote a second response in 2017 doubling down on the differences between the young and Millennials.
As is probably clear from the above convincing yet contrasting predictions, nobody knows for sure what to expect. Of course, uncertainty alone may be enough to cause the less risk-tolerant business to give pause. Yet, short of an industry-wide disruption, the sheer number of urban dental practices all but guarantees that there will continue to be successful ventures in high density settings. For those pondering a practice in developing urban markets, consider the history and scale of development in the area. While the goal of this post is not to make a blanket case either for or against urban markets, it is key to ask if the neighborhood can support a larger presence of dental providers today, once current construction is finished or only with continued rapid growth.