By John Goff
For as many years as there have been older people on earth, it’s been a common ritual for older folks to question the habits and preferences of their kids’ and grandkids’ generations. The same is true today with Millennials – everybody loves weighing in on their different work habits and the digital addictions that they bring to our world.
Yet working as I have in civic and commercial real estate development for the past few decades, I’ve noticed something unusual that both Millennials and Baby Boomers now have in common: both share a love for and are actually moving into authentic, older, walkable, intown neighborhoods. While there are exceptions, most of the recently developed suburban “city centers” have difficulty exuding the same bona fide charm that these two generations crave.
As a past chair of ULI Atlanta, which advocates for the responsible use of land, this trend is a beautiful thing to witness. There is no more responsible use of our earth’s resources than the adaptive re-use of the existing inventory of buildings we have inherited from previous developers.
My firm, DaVinci Development Collaborative, in conjunction with the visionary investment fund LUCROR Resources, is currently involved with the latest renaissance of downtown Atlanta’s Flatiron Building, our city’s first steel-supported skyscraper erected in 1897. Today, the distinctive 11-story, three-sided office building overlooking Woodruff Park begins a new life with the Mayor of Atlanta’s Women’s Entrepreneurship Initiative on its top floor, a new Microsoft Innovation Center on its first floor and lots of emerging businesses on the floors between.
I also helped advise Atlanta Legal Aid Society’s recent purchase and impressive renovation of downtown’s 54 Ellis Street that originally was built in 1910 as an Elks Club Lodge. Later, the Salvation Army, the Union Mission and Beers (later Skanska) Construction occupied the four-story building before it sat vacant for a few years.
The streets of downtown are alive now – particularly late on weekend nights –with the addition of thousands of new residents, many who are students at Georgia State University. Nearby office buildings have been converted to condominiums and apartments, bringing an older generation that can walk to downtown’s Centennial Olympic Park, several new museums, attractions and excellent restaurants.
Just a few blocks north, Atlanta’s Midtown district is a leader in the coupling of redevelopment of historic buildings with appropriate infill of new construction – together with Midtown Alliance’s blueprint of street-level retail – all of which is attracting thousands of Millennials and Baby Boomers into the same apartments and condominium towers.
What about the generations in between Millennials and Baby Boomers? While some exceptions do exist, most of these residents do not choose to live downtown or in Midtown towers during their child-rearing years. They tend to congregate in single-family homes in more residentially established or newer suburban neighborhoods, in which they can enjoy highly rated schools, larger fenced yards, community pools, parks and tennis courts. Yet these families will no doubt evolve into Empty Nesters and find themselves moving into authentic older walkable communities.
You can see evidence of these intergenerational neighborhoods if you walk the BeltLine, bike around Piedmont Park, shop or dine at night along Peachtree or purchase groceries at Publix, Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
ULI Atlanta spent decades pointing to other cities as examples of smart growth, urban infill and adaptive re-use. Now as large international conventions, such as this spring’s American Institute of Architects and American Alliance of Museums conferences displayed, Atlanta can joyfully take attendees on tours of our hot, new authentic neighborhoods.
And instead of whisking them through on a bus or vans, we now lead our wide-eyed visitors on walks down authentic, lively, historic streets – full of Millennials and Baby Boomers.