More Millennial Muddling

Steve Goldstein (Twitter) hosted a conversation Tuesday on KJZZ’s Here and Now program with Ben Casselman about the “narrative”being advanced by “the media” (and developers) about the economic impact of the millennial generation, particularly their supposed preference for urban living.

BENCASSELMAN2_LIGHTCasselman is the chief economics writer for Nate Silver’s Five ThirtyEight website (Twitter). You may know Nate Silver as the sports and political statistician who correctly predicted the winners of the 2008 US Presidential election in 49 out of the 50 states.

Silver’s 2012 book, The Signal and the Noise, poked holes in the works of those who use the language of statistics to drive their own agendas, but without the real science that should be the foundation of critical decision making.

The book describes Silver’s methods of mathematical model building using probability and statistics. Silver takes a big-picture approach to using statistical tools, combining sources of unique data (e.g., timing a minor league ball player’s fastball using a radar gun), with historical data and principles of sound statistical analysis; Silver argues that many of these are violated by many pollsters and pundits who nonetheless have important media roles. [Wikipedia]

Silver’s work is not without criticism, but he certainly changed the conversation on these topics.

Judging by his Twitter feed, Silver associate Casselman is a somewhat irreverent but pragmatic observer of social data. Casselman’s explores the urban myth of urban-aspiring millennials in his Five ThirtyEight article, “Think millennials prefer the city? Think again.”

In that article, Casselman says,

…a survey released earlier this year found that most millennials still want a traditional suburban experience, complete with big single-family homes. The American Community Survey, which provides a more granular look than the data released this week, tells much the same story, said Jed Kolko, chief economist of the real estate site Trulia.

One of Casselman’s most astute observations is that millennial desire for the urban living experience (to the extent that there is one) has a “life-cycle.” In other words–as I explained to a couple of political acquaintances over pie a few months ago–the urban living experience wanes after a few years of the single life. I would estimate (very unscientifically) that the half-life averages around two years.

Yet, people like Mayor Jim Lane and the Scottsdale city council are making zoning decisions which,

  • are permanent changes to the physical character of a community desired for its physical character by the tourists who drive our economy,
  • drastically increase population density (with associated infrastructure strain), and
  • affect ALL of the EXISTING residents of Scottsdale,
  • for the sake of a “narrative” made-up by real estate developers and their political pals, about catering to millennials and their mythical economic contribution.

If you read ScottsdaleTrails, you know that I’ve already covered the specious and unethical city council debates about millennials and density–which are really only dog-and-pony shows to justify pre-determined outcomes–in “The price of pandering to millennials,” and other articles.

The are very much like the non-data-driven discussions about light rail in Scottsdale, which seem to be on eternal life support as their proponents try to wear down their critics and concerned citizens. See “The myth of light rail’s property value impact.”

Meanwhile, the apartmentization of Scottsdale continues unabated, headed straight for a classic overshoot of the supply-and-demand ratio for that type of housing. We saw it in the condo/apartment conversion craze of the 2000s, and we’ll see it again.


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  1. I have always been frustrated by the statements about millennials wanting small living spaces in crowded areas, and preferring to rent rather than own.

    This based on actions rather than desires. Actions are limited by options, resources and capability.

    Using the same logic, you could say number of other things about millennials like they prefer to rent Kia’s rather than own Ferraris.

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