Article contributed by Terry Foegler, ULI Columbus Chair for Mission Advancement

My involvement in insight2050 has provided an exciting opportunity for me to further explore a topic of great personal interest; how the changing structure of our region’s demographics so strongly influences the manner and form of our development in Central Ohio.

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Figure 1: Between 1980 and 2010, Baby Boomers moved into and through their prime home-buying and family raising years (ages 35-54)

 

Over at the least the past forty years, our region, like most American metro areas, has been strongly characterized by an extraordinary wave of suburbanization…..often characterized as increasingly less dense development moving away from the urban core. Driven in large part by what Dowell Myers has called the Baby Boom’s Generational Housing Bubble, our region has experienced the impacts of this massive growing demand for larger, single-family detached housing which was needed to accommodate the growing demand of this generation’s demographic anomaly. When we now look back at the demographic charts that depict this Baby Boom “bubble” aging through time, which constituted the major piece of our housing growth during this period, it’s pretty easy to see why the region’s housing market so appropriately responded to that massive new demand. After all, there was a substantial mismatch between the growing size (and relative wealth) of this burgeoning demographic segment of our population, and the region’s supply of housing to accommodate the needs of those households (often characterized as households with children).

 

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Figure 2: Between 2010 and 2040, much of the growth in population will happen outside the prime home-buying and family raising years

 

A great many of the local “Comprehensive Plans” and development control regulations used by local governments in our region were a product of our communities’ response to, and desire to appropriately plan for, this primary “driver” or our region’s growth. Our transportation and infrastructure systems (and the planning of those systems) also appropriately and rationally responded to this very land consumptive, auto-oriented form of our region’s development over the past forty years. These actions may have been appropriate for their times, but we must be careful not to assume, or simply project forward, the development trends of the past.

 

Sometimes successful regions and communities can become complacent because of their past and current “success”. We in Central Ohio have very good story to tell, and groups like Columbus 2020 are critical in making sure we effectively tell that story to companies looking for a regional home. But to maintain and grow that success, we as a region have an obligation to also effectively prepare and plan for our changing future. Such preparation first requires good data, and then sound, objective analyses of those data. insight2050’s work, and the earlier demographic analysis performed for our region by Arthur Nelson, are foundational elements of that important data and analysis.

 

Analyses from these efforts are making it increasingly clear that the primary demographic drivers of our region’s next generation of “growth” will be dramatically different from those that drove our past forty years…..and that these changes are already occurring. Our region’s major segment of household growth (over 80%) in the next forty years will be households with one or two persons, containing no children, and increasingly characterized by aging empty nesters (aging Baby Boomers). This dynamic will not likely fuel the type increasingly less dense, outward expansion of larger lot single family development in our region that was a major part of our region’s development pattern over our past 40 years. As aging Baby Boomers continue to age and increasing begin to sell off their larger single family homes; as young professionals continue to demonstrate preferences for more urban and walkable lifestyles; and as governmental resources become increasingly constrained, it is critical that we begin to prepare and plan for our region’s future in a manner that responds to these dramatically changing demographic drivers, and positions our region in as sustainable and competitive a position as possible.