Downtown developers are betting on millennials, the 20- to 30-somethings that are now adults and establishing themselves in careers centered in downtown Chicago. They are young, flush with hope for the future, and excited to be out on their own. They don’t want 3-hour commutes; they want lives full of energy and experiences.
They are also getting to an age where they are starting to think about a family.
Developers are courting the millennials with luxury apartments in shiny new buildings with “green roofs” and “open areas” and a movie theater/grocery store/bowling alley right in the building. And they are winning them in a big way. After a 12% increase in renters since 2006, renters officially outnumber homeowners in Chicago according to a study noted by the Chicago Tribune.
Many millennials were raised in pretty little suburban houses with yards and garages and a lot of other niceties that require effort and upkeep. And time. Add to that the time required for a suburban or far-off neighborhood commute, and it’s not surprising that they are choosing to give up some of that Currier & Ives perfection for a chance to spread their wings.
They also probably don’t know who Currier & Ives were. Let’s put it in their vernacular: less Gwyneth Paltrow, more Katy Perry.
And that’s great. For now.
Eventually, though, they are going to be faced with a choice. As they settle a little and start their families, those cosy one- and two-bedroom apartments are going to start getting tight. And as the kids grow, it’s just going to get tighter.
As much as developers want millennials to come, they don’t want them to stay. YoChicago reports that from 2013 to 2016, there are 14,657 new apartments hitting the downtown market, roughly North Avenue to Cermak and Ashland to the lake. Of the 12 developments listed at YoChicago with 2015 move-in dates, six provide information on floor plans and unit mixes. Of the 3,122 units in those six buildings, 14 have three bedrooms. 14. Out of 3,122.
Come, Millennials! Establish yourselves! Enjoy everything city life has to offer! And then get out of Dodge, whether you want to or not.
Raising kids in the city is not for everyone, but it has its benefits. Weekly daddy/preschooler bonding time at a world class museum with nifty hands-on, kid-friendly exhibits is great in winter, but it will cost more if you can’t utilize Chicago Public Library’s free museum passes. And after commuting all week, how much effort are you going to put into doing it again for fun? Downtown high-schoolers still hang out with friends after school, sometimes even at the mall (Water Tower), but they also might walk to the beach or head over to the Museum of Contemporary Art to check out the David Bowie exhibit. (You know, David Bowie!? The guy from that cool old movie Labyrinth!)
And that’s all the effort we’re going to put into discussing the school issue. The city can pump all the money it wants into Near North and centrally located schools. If there’s no place to live, families will leave.
There are, of course, options for millennials who multiply. There’s nothing wrong with kids sharing a room. It does get a little awkward, however, when your pre-teen daughter is sharing a bedroom with two pubescent brothers. Planning on stopping at two kids? A) That’s only slightly less awkward for them if they’re not the same gender, and B) surprises happen.
Or, you move. If not to the suburbs, to a neighborhood where you can afford more space. Unless you have a couple million dollars available, more space means more commute time. Recently, a candidate for alderman in a ward bordering downtown was asked a question about the availability of affordable, not luxury, housing for families in the developments going up in the neighborhood. His reply, which he did not post publicly, lead her to respond in a comment that she had basically been told by the candidate that if you can no longer afford the neighborhood you’ve lived in for years, it’s time to move. He’s not polling especially well.
So a commute is most likely in your future. According to Crain’s Chicago Business, Chicago has the fourth highest average commute time in the country at 31 minutes. Considering that commute times for downtown renters is probably about 15 minutes, it’s not surprising that hour-long commutes are so common.
But if a white picket fence and elbow room for a couple of kids are in your life plan, those are your choices. Pray for two kids of the same gender, or prepare to lose time with them to your commute. It’s going to be next to impossible to stay downtown.
The decision is yours, Millennials. More kids, or life in the big city.
About the Author: Julia Goralka has written for The Communities at Washington Times and Communities Digital News. A former Admin Assistant, Office Services Coordinator and Division Coordinator, she is in the process of returning to the workforce after a 20-year sabbatical to raise her children. Currently, Julie is enjoying temp work as an amazing way to refresh skills, build a resume and see parts of the city she’d never visited.