Dallas and The Millennials

The Millennial generation may be the largest population bubble in history.  Like their predecessor in population booms, the baby boomers, their impact upon cities will be profound.

I’ve beeen studying generations, in particular, millennials since before they were called millennials.  People were still wrongly calling them Gen Y, as if they were some hyperbolized version of Gen X.  However, that wasn’t true so they name didn’t fit.  Then the millennials outright rejected that label.

What drew me to studying millennials first, was the book Fourth Turning, which was a fascinating look at how generations repeat in similar cycles of four.  Every second generation is a reaction to the prior and the polar opposite of the one two prior.  What struck me was the promise of Millennials being the rhyming couplet to the “Greatest Generation,” sharing similar psychological traits and the fate of having to pick up the broken pieces of failing institutions.

Their book was written nearly 20 years ago and led to a second book looking specifically at Millennials and their collective psychographic profile.  It turns out their predictions, of who millennials were and that some sort of societal collapse was imminent — in this case the global economic unwinding, were exactly right.  To learn more, you can scroll through the slides of a presentation I put together back in about 2006 for a residential developer wondering who they would be building for over the next 20 years)

Millennials, aged approximately 18-35 (generation boundaries are fuzzy things), are now almost entirely out in the work force.  We’ve been speculating about their behavior patterns and how they might change everything from housing to transportation for the past decade.  And now they’re here.  Well kinda sorta here.  Not as much here as everywhere else, according to economist Joe Cortright as cited in the two-part piece in the Morning News by Mitchell Schnurman.

The thesis is that Millennials want urban living, not just because young people always go to cities, but moreso than other previous generations because Millennials grew up largely stranded in the sprawling, car-dependent baby boomer wasteland.  They were dependent upon mom or dad or the school bus to take them anywhere.  The car wasn’t a symbol of freedom to them, like to boomers, but instead just the opposite.

Millennials are social creatures that prefer working in groups.  They are communitarians that, as the term implies, search for community and yearn to be a part of one or many.

However, some cities are doing better at catering to them than others.  While anecdotally we see places like uptown or Deep Ellum, or Bishop Arts being infused by this spirit and rebirth of urbanism.  However, it is 1) not just them and 2) we aren’t getting nearly enough of them comparatively, as Cortright’s research suggested.

However, Cortright focuses on census data beginning in 2000, right around the time that the first Millennials were entering the workforce.  From that standpoint, the timeline of the research makes a lot of sense.  However, there were some questions posed on Facebook wondering about more recent data.  So I decided to look at 2007-2013 demographic data of various urban counties and then cities and how Dallas compares to those most successful in luring Millennials.  Here is what I found:

County percentage population increase in 18-34 year olds from 2007-13:

San Francisco:  68.04%

Multnomah (Portland): 40.97$

King (Seattle): 33.68%

Denver:  57.49%

Arlington, VA:  82.24% – worth noting that Arlington, VA has focused on Transit-Oriented Development along the Rosslyn-Balston corridor for the last 20 years and has completely transformed Arlington.

DC: 34.27%

New York County (Manhattan):  42.79%

Dallas County:  13.9%


City population gains in 18-34 year olds from 2007-13 (rounded to nearest 000’s):

Arlington, VA: 56k – 80k, 42.9%

DC:  178k – 222k, 24.7%

Denver:  149k – 195k, 30.9%

Austin: 247k – 294k, 19%

Seattle: 165k – 208k, 26%

Fort Worth: 174k – 204k, 16%

Portland:  133k – 172k, 29.3%

Houston:  549k – 612k – 11.5%

OKC:  132k – 157k – 18.5%

Dallas:  337k – 357k – 5.9%


In the first set of counties, I’m comparing Dallas County to those performing the best based on the metric of percentage increase in 18-34 year olds.  In the second category, I’m comparing city of Dallas to some of those same places, but also including some of our regional ‘competitors.’  While they’re still doing better than us, the coastal cities are still far more magnetic to the “young and restless.”

Millennials want walkable, urban neighborhoods, safe, dedicated bicycle infrastructure, and they want convenient transit.  We’re lagging behind in all of those areas and it shows in the data.  The demand is there.  Will it be supplied?



I decided to drill down a bit and see what kind of Millennial growth is happening where the most Millenials are in Dallas, which would be the uptown/downtown/east dallas area.  Unfortunately, the lowest geographic area I can drill down to in 2013 data is the PUMA (Public Use Microdata Area), which segments populations by roughly 100,000 increments.  So it’s much bigger than a census tract.  Also, the boundaries of these, unlike census tracts or city and county borders, tend to move around.  So it’s difficult to compare apples to apples.

However, looking at the uptown/downtown/East Dallas area, during this time span shows an increase in 18-34 year olds from 39,699 to 50,072 for an increase of 26%, much faster than the city or county is adding young people and at a rate closer to the more successful cities.  We should build more of it.


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