I’ve felt a certain disconnect as I’ve read the recent debating opinions about “millennials.”
Like so many labels, the term millennial is a stereotype, filtering for only one commonality — in this case, individuals born roughly between the early 1980s and the early 2000s.
Like other stereotypes — Democrats or Republicans or Baby Boomers — the label ignores important distinctions within the group. Further confusion arises because each of us tend to personalize the discussion, based on individuals we know to be members of the group.
That explains why to some debaters, millennials are the problem; while to others they are the solution. The truth is, they are neither! The futility of the debate highlights the need for a sharper definition, particularly when we are trying to identify new residents we want to attract to our city.
It is worth remembering the old adage, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.”
In the context of the millennial debate, we need to first ask ourselves, “How does our city need to change in order for citizens to prosper?”
We can probably all agree on a few goals for our community, each of which have been endorsed by citizens over the years:
• Retain our lead as a tourist destination
Tourists spend money in our stores and restaurants, as well as for lodging. Their spending supports a rich array of experiences for all of us who live here. Importantly, they also generate a meaningful share of local sales taxes that support city services for our citizens.
• Maintain high standards of appearance and aesthetics with a sensitivity for open space, views and scenic corridors.
We know this goal is important to tourists who choose to visit places of beauty that don’t look like home or other tourist destinations. The goal also figures into the quality of life for each of us as citizens and enhances our property values. This is not a goal of no-growth; it’s a goal of smart-growth.
• Be recognized as an arts and culture destination.
We know arts and culture are an element appreciated by local citizens. We also know it is a draw for tourists and enriches their experience once they are here. Support of our city’s arts and culture cachet requires a committed and appreciative audience — as well as a generous one!
With agreement on the goals we have for our city, we then need to ask ourselves, “What actions can we take to target the individuals who will help us achieve these goals — regardless of labels.”
We know the demographics that define our city today — the Scottsdale we’re building on. Average family income is $112,590; the average home value is $413,100; of our adult population, 34 percent have college degrees; 83 percent of Scottsdale’s jobs are held by non-residents.
Will we further our goals by encouraging more new jobs, probably filled by non-residents? Not likely! Indeed, if we’re not careful we’ll end up with more commuter congestion than we now have. That won’t be good for tourists or residents.
Will we further our goals by approving taller buildings, denser housing or less open space? Not likely! The more we make our city look like the cities where our tourists live, the less appealing Scottsdale will be as a place to visit.
Furthermore, it may also be a less attractive place for us to call home.
Will we further our goals by pursuing strategies that might reduce Scottsdale’s average annual family income? Not likely! We need families who can support the retail, the restaurants, the arts and culture of the city. We need families whose taxes on aggregate spending support our traditional level of city services. Spending by tourists alone cannot sustain the quality of life we now enjoy.
Let’s not take just any road! Instead, let’s focus on our goals, then identify and pursue strategies that target every demographic sub-group who can help us achieve our vision. I encourage us all to set aside the debate over labels and acknowledge some members of every group might be exactly the new citizens we want and need.