With a streaming influx of new residents, South Carolina must shift its development strategy away from suburban sprawl to urban density.
New America Foundation senior fellow Pamela Puchalski recently told Palmetto Business Daily that business competitiveness is emerging, especially in the IT sector, as a factor in this trend. Other technological and manufacturing industries emerging in South Carolina feed urban density as well, which attracts younger people.
“Younger people want to be closer to the city and demand walkability, which promotes a healthier lifestyle, and public transportation, which eliminates the need for a car,” Puchalski said. “They just have a different set of values that cannot be nurtured by sprawl.”
The New American Foundation is a non-profit think tank that addresses technology, politics and policy in the "Digital Age."
Puchalski explained that with the emergence of public transportation, urban-focused living seems more practical. It also embraces “greener” living.
“Sprawl creates more time in cars, as well as the need for more fuel,” she said. “Travel wastes time and energy, as well as increases CO2 emissions. Quality of life is reduced with sprawl, because who wants to spend all that time in a car? Sprawl is an antiquated model that embraces values of what American success used to be, which is ingrained in older generations specifically.”
Puchalski also argued urban settings offer open public spaces, which is where people meet. Urban landscapes embrace diversity.
“There are mixed uses and mixed incomes in urban settings, which creates more social tolerance and resilience because people learn to live with difference, compared to the white flight associated with sprawl” she said.
Although younger people embrace urban density, Puchalski explained that older people are also interested in it as well.
“Those who are getting older also like urban centers because they have more accessibility to certain conveniences, as well as being closer to people for company or for help if they need it,” she said.
Thompson Penney, chairman, president and CEO of South Carolina architecture and design company LS3P Associates LLP, recently told Palmetto Business Daily that Puchalski’s take on South Carolina’s embrace of urban density is correct.
“Baby Boomers (age 52 to 70 in 2016) are getting older, becoming empty-nesters and making decisions about whether to age in place, downsize or relocate for their retirement years,” Penney said. “Many Gen X-ers (age 36 to 51) are raising families; however, fewer are doing so than in past generations.”
Penney, who also is a member of the Charleston, SC-based Trident CEO Council, explained that rapid growth, along with younger, childless Millennials are shaping the city landscape.
“Millennials (age 19 to 35) are reaching young adulthood, are not yet having children and are making decisions about lifestyle, careers and home ownership,” he said. “We are also growing rapidly. The U.S. population will grow by 31 percent by 2040. Our Charleston metro is currently growing at 2.2 percent per year, (double the national growth rate). At this rate, we will reach 1 million by 2025 and 1.3 million by 2040.”
Where will these people choose to live? Penney explained that as opposed to previous generational preferences, most people now are favoring attached or small-lot homes, with the demand for large-lot housing falling to only 25 percent of the market by 2040.
“Our households themselves are changing, more people are staying single longer, more people are living longer and fewer people are having children,” he said. “More than 80 percent of the growth in the housing market is predicted to be households without children and 50 percent of those households will be single-persons.”
Penney also explained that the economic climate is different, which creates different needs in the housing market.
“Those who watched the housing bubble burst in the Great Recession may be wary of investments in real estate,” Penney said. “Also, in greater and greater numbers, people who would typically enter the housing market after graduation are also saddled with high-interest student loan debt, which changes their purchasing priorities. Half of the growth in households will be renters. This is unprecedented.”
Furthermore, Penney explained that urban living is attractive because buyers and renters prefer less yard maintenance, shorter commutes to work and more accessible amenities in easy walking distance.
“What is it that’s drawing Millennials to the city? Convenience, interaction, the possibility for instantaneous meet-ups organized by text messages, nearby nightlife, entertainment venues, parks; mass transit rather than owning cars; and the new ‘sharing economy’ makes it easier,” he said.
In short, Penney explained that Millennials are looking for more personal connections and opportunities.
“People who have spent time in a city, car-free, can attest to an important phenomenon — the world looks very different at pedestrian speeds,” he said. “Street-level interaction creates a lot of possibilities. The experience of walking through a city creates connections. Studies have shown that friendships are largely formed based on proximity: brief, spontaneous, everyday encounters repeated over time. These unplanned encounters are crucial to the development of social relationships.”
The general consensus among urbanists are that with a growing population of diverse peoples, city living simply makes more sense for business and transportation infrastructure, the environment and for social acceptance.
“We miss these spontaneous encounters when our routines become car-dependent,” Penney said. “We miss these opportunities as we depend more and more on social media, smartphones and texting for social exchanges. We also miss the possibilities for human interaction when our physical space makes them difficult. It’s not surprising, then, that young people are intuitively making a choice that offers maximum social opportunities.”