Cities found to attract young

`New urbanites' are overwhelmingly youthful, says expert

Municipal growth

June 24, 1999|By Rachel Sams | Rachel Sams,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Cities have a future, and it's Generation Y.

So said Joel Kotkin, a professor at the Pepperdine University Institute for Public Policy, in the keynote address at the Maryland Conference on Growth Manage- ment, held yesterday in Columbia.

Several other participants reinforced his belief that young people will play a key role in major cities' attempts to turn downtown areas into thriving residential neighborhoods.

A group of "new urbanites" has begun to buck the decades-long trend of movement from the cities to suburbia, according to Kotkin.

Those new urbanites, he said, are overwhelmingly young and either single or childless. They're attracted by the cultural opportunities cities offer, and they don't have to worry about the public education system.

"One-third of the baby boomer population is single, childless or has one child," Kotkin pointed out. "Generation Y is about the size of the baby boomers."

Conference moderator Thomas S. Bozzuto, chief executive officer of the Bozzuto Group of Greenbelt, agreed that cities are attracting young people as residents.

"An increasing number of my peers are talking about moving back into the city, and all of my children's generation are living in cities," said Bozzuto, 52. "I could raise the rents on my apartments in downtown Baltimore and Washington, D.C., to any level I wanted and keep those apartments full."

Participants at the day-long conference on growth discussed several of its aspects, from how to stimulate growth in Baltimore to how to address suburban sprawl. The conference was sponsored by the Maryland State Builders Association and the Home Builders Association of Maryland.

According to statistics provided by Kotkin, Baltimore has lost 250,000 people since 1970, while Baltimore County has gained 700,000 people.

When Jim Joyce, vice president of the Baltimore division of homebuilder the Ryland Group, asked how many of the attendees lived in single-family homes, an overwhelming number of hands went up.

"This room is sprawl," he said. "Everybody here has been a great perpetrator of sprawl." But Joyce pointed out that some of the problems associated with sprawl, such as traffic jams, can have an upside as well.

"If there's heavy traffic going someplace, something's happening -- someone has a job, money is changing hands," Joyce said. He added that there was much less traffic in the early 1990s, when the local unemployment rate was much higher.

A major focus of the conference was on Smart Growth policies, which include local and regional planning, preservation of natural resources and control of suburban sprawl.

"The most important component of smart growth is keeping existing communities livable and healthy so people will want to stay there," said Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger. "We must make sure that new growth is compatible with old neighborhoods."

Participants noted that some Smart Growth initiatives have met with public opposition. According to Ruppersberger, measures such as "infill development" and increased density, both of which are promoted by the Maryland Smart Growth law, have been very unpopular with citizens. (Infill development attempts to bring new housing to existing urban areas.)

"Basically, nobody wants anything changed in America, period," he said. "The main obstacle is our American lifestyle."

Pub Date: 6/24/99

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