Long gone are the days of white picket fences and suburban living. Today’s ideal living local appears to be dense, downtown metropolitan areas. While some generations, particularly baby boomers, are reluctant to accept this new way of life, it is the preference of millennials (those born between 1980 and 2000).

Mitchell Silver, the Chief Planning and Development Officer with the City of Raleigh, shared his rationale for this evolution during the Shaping the Future of Our Region: Lessons from Raleigh luncheon hosted by CLF, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce and the Charleston Regional Development Alliance. His presentation highlighted key factors to successful economic development planning.

One of the greatest messages of the day was that change is coming. Baby boomers, who once represented a large segment of our population, are no longer the decision makers when it comes to future planning. Instead, we must turn to other generations, specifically X and Y, to help guide the process. These generations tend to be more concerned with the greater good and creating opportunity for all. While baby boomers want the ability to age in place, X and Y prefer urban living environments and enhanced mobility; furthermore, they represent the future of the housing market. Gen X and Y will dictate what is needed and how it can be affordable for the entire population.

Emerging demographic and housing trends that will guide the planning process:

Increasing population: 52% of the US population will live in the South by 2030

Decreasing household size: The number of single-person households will equal the number of family households by 2025 and will surpass them by 2050

Aging America: By 2030, one in five citizens will be over the age of 65

Increasing Diversity: By 2050, there will be no one dominant ethnicity in the United States

Mitchell emphasized the roll the planner plays, and that planning must look at least five years into the future. Ten years ago, the City of Raleigh was at a crossroads. City officials recognized the need to begin planning for smart growth and after examining local trends and hearing directly from residents, decided that they must address what is needed, not what was wanted. Today, Raleigh is a recognized leader in economic development.

The take away: In order to fully understand the issue of affordable housing/economic development and its solutions, it is critical to understand the diversity and complexities of the local population in which you serve. Understand the population, and accept the change that is bound to occur.