Fleeing suburbia — How NJ towns are trying to attract millennials
You've heard it here several times — a large chunk of younger New Jersey adults are shying away from suburbia, more interested in a fast-paced urban lifestyle.
The trend is no surprise, given the longer they're waiting to reach major life milestones.
But now New Jersey's suburban towns are feeling the heat, and they're looking for ways to keep these younger-than-35-year-olds from fleeing, or ways to bring them back.
"There are more homes going vacant. Statistically, that is an issue in New Jersey," said Michael Darcy, executive director of the New Jersey State League of Municipalities. "People are waiting later in life before they establish families."
He noted the pattern is also having an impact on school enrollment in certain clusters of the state, causing some staff cuts or consolidation.
Millennials are attracted to the live-work-play environment, explains James Hughes, Rutgers University professor and an expert in New Jersey economics and demographics.
Some towns may never be able to provide the lifestyle this cohort needs, but others have unique opportunities to do so, he said.
In Bridgewater, a mixed-use community packed with restaurants, a grocery store, shops, luxury residences and more is planned at the former site of global pharmaceutical company Sanofi's research campus.
"They're trying to make that project and campus a 24/7 live-work-play environment," Hughes said. "Bridgewater realized they had a problem with that property and so they changed the zoning to permit the type of development that will attract millennials."
Other examples include significant overhauls of commercial buildings or office parks. In Holmdel, Hughes said, Bell Works (originally Bell Labs) provides an environment that "blurs the line between work and play."
Hughes and Darcy noted millennials will eventually reach the age of settling down, meaning the neighborhoods of home after home will eventually be a magnet again. But in the meantime, communities are aware of the current demographic shift and hope to stem the tide.
"Suburban areas are having more trouble finding that magic combination," Darcy said.
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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at firstname.lastname@example.org.