Suburbs looking for ways to lure young adults back from cities

If young adults are going to the big city and staying in increasing numbers, how can suburbs get them back?

Demographers and politicians are scratching their heads over the change and have come up with conflicting theories. And some suburban towns are trying to make themselves more alluring to young residents, building apartment complexes, concert venues, bicycle lanes and more exotic restaurants…

Some suburbs are working diligently to find ways to hold onto their young. In the past decade, Westbury, N.Y., has built a total of 850 apartments — condos, co-ops and rentals — near the train station, a hefty amount for a village of 15,000 people. Late last year it unveiled a new concert venue, the Space at Westbury, that books performers like Steve Earle, Tracy Morgan and Patti Smith.

Long Beach, N.Y., with a year-round population of 33,000, has also been refreshing its downtown near the train station over the last couple of decades. The city has provided incentives to spruce up signage and facades, remodeled pavements and crosswalks, and provided more parking. A smorgasbord of ethnic restaurants flowered on Park Avenue, the main street…

Thomas R. Suozzi, in his unsuccessful campaign to reclaim his former position as Nassau County executive last year, held up Long Beach, Westbury and Rockville Centre as examples of municipalities that had succeeded in drawing young people with apartments, job-rich office buildings, restaurants and attractions, like Long Beach’s refurbished boardwalk. Unless downtowns become livelier, he said, the island’s “long-term sustainability” will be hurt because new businesses will not locate in places where they cannot attract young professionals.

This story should make New Urbanists happy. Because cities are attracting young adults with cultural amenities and jobs, suburbs have to respond with their own amenities. Simply existing as a bedroom community won’t cut it for attracting younger residents who want competitive housing prices as well as things to do. By appealing to these residents, suburbs can also win in two ways. First, their efforts to bring in more restaurants, stores, and cultural opportunities can help diversify their tax base. New commercial establishments and festivals help bring in visitors as well as residents who spend money. Second, these moves may also help make their downtowns and neighborhoods denser. This limits residents’ reliance on cars and makes streets more pedestrian friendly.

Of course, many of these suburbs will find it difficult to compete with (1) the big city and (2) other suburbs. Popular tactics in recent years across suburbs include transit oriented development involving condos and amenities near railroads or other mass transit and trying to build a more vibrant downtown around restaurants and small but unique shops.

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