What millennials want–and why Spokane should cater to them

Walkability can help make or break a city as a vital, energetic, and vibrant place to live, according to the millennials that Spokane needs to attract. So why do we keep investing in policies created by Baby Boomers? (PHOTO: BethesdaNow.com)

We’re always saying that in order to succeed, Spokane needs to take time and energy to attract a key demographic: young, urban professionals. But what does it take to do that?

Millennials are markedly different from their parents in a number of ways, from dress to music to cultural attitudes. But perhaps most tellingly, millennials desire different things from their homes. Where the Baby Boomers originally valued safe, affordable homes in the suburbs, research reveals that more and more millennials wish to live in the type of mixed-use communities that Spokane needs to succeed. According to new data reported by The Atlantic CityLab, these young people are primarily concerned with four issues: walkability, good schools and parks, excellent public transportation, and new technology.

Sound familiar? We’ve been advocating these causes for months.

Unfortunately, it seems that Spokane currently caters more toward Baby Boomers than to Millennials. Our development policies favor large, suburban tracts on the urban fringe, as opposed to live-work communities like Kendall Yards. Public transportation and bicyclists constantly deal with the scorn of those who believe more money should be spent on roads. And while our schools continue to improve, they are not making the type of calculated investments needed to take area education to the next level.

So let’s invest. Let’s build a streetcar, a trolley, a light rail. Let’s improve our bike lanes, our crosswalks, our pedestrian trails. Let’s incentivize infill, and work with developers to craft creative plans for increasing density. Let’s make sure our schools have the proper tools to teach, from smaller class sizes to new curricula and learning methodologies. Let’s bring entrepreneurship and innovation to the high schools, the middle schools, and even the elementary schools, encouraging students and fostering a culture of creativity. Let’s improve Riverfront Park, adding new features for accessibility and new community gathering places under the Pavilion. Let’s create a city-wide fiber-to-the-home initiative, bolstered by the local business community. These investments have tangible returns and have proven to show real-world results. With them, we could become the number one city in the country for millennials. Seriously. Let’s take some time to make this happen.

Investment first. Then returns. That should be the strategy moving forward.

What do you think? What could the Spokane area be doing to attract more millennials? How do you think our policies line up with the perspectives of millennials? How could we become the #1 city in America for millennials? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

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Idea #12: Build high-quality graduate programs (in diverse fields) at local universities

Gonzaga University offers a top-notch undergraduate experience, but their graduate programs lag painfully behind. Spokane’s long-term success in becoming a destination for young people hinges partially on high-quality graduate programs. (PHOTO: Dwayne Wright)

Myth: Spokane will never have young, urban professionals because young people tend to move away to go to school. Moreover, it does not have the jobs or the lifestyle opportunities to support them.

That myth has been told more than perhaps any other to describe the demise of culture in Spokane. But here’s the thing: it’s completely and utterly false. In terms of potential to attract the type of young, urban professionals that Spokane needs to thrive, we have as much or more than any other comparable city. We have four universities located within city limits, with Gonzaga University, Eastern Washington University, and Washington State University located in the University District downtown and Whitworth University holding up the fort in north Spokane. We have a low cost of living, an abundance of affordable housing, and  We great food, excellent shopping, and outstanding cultural opportunities right downtown and four seasons of recreation within as little as a five-minute drive (or less!) Everything seems to be right for Spokane to become an “it” place.

So why hasn’t it?

The answer is probably more complicated than just the issue of education, but education plays a big role. WSU Spokane focuses almost entirely on medicine and nursing, which are great, but hardly harness the innovation and creativity of students. (And, it should be noted, that’s probably for the best. The thought of a doctor innovating a new treatment off-the-cuff and without guidance conjures up frightening possibilities.) When they aren’t educating students for the healthcare profession, they’re providing MBAs and HPAs to professionals already in stable careers. Gonzaga University, meanwhile, has gutted its graduate engineering program, choosing instead to focus almost entirely on undergraduates. It’s the same story at EWU Spokane.

In order to grow our young, urban professional population and increase the availability of high-paying, high-quality jobs, our universities must broaden their scope and offer more, better graduate programs to more people.

I’m thinking of graduate engineering. I’m thinking of entrepreneurship. I’m thinking of computer science and engineering. I’m thinking of information systems. I’m thinking of economics. (There’s an innovation and high-tech economy in Spokane that sits just bubbling under the surface, waiting to be explored!)

The sooner Spokane, or better, the State of Washington, realizes this and provides benefits to universities for adding new programs, the better. We need graduate education in order to thrive, and the status quo will not cut it. It’s time to build graduate education in Spokane.

What are your thoughts? Share your comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, on other social media, or even amongst your friends in person. We want to hear from you!