A Gladwellian Idea for Thinking About Land Use Density Preferences

Are land use density preferences developmental or generational?

One of my favorite thinkers Malcolm Gladwell, recently spoke at Tune’s Postback 2015 event. As part of a talk on how numbers are only part of the story, he described the difference between development and generational behavior changes. Gladwell, a journalist, bestselling author, and speaker, deals with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences.

According to Gladwell, developmental change occurs to people within a certain age group. One of his examples was car accidents, which statistically “only affect people under 40.” His example of generational change, on the other hand, was how baby boomers impacted the American workplace by demanding “more freedom, greater rewards, and changes in the boss-employee relationship” that still affect our workplaces today.

There are many opinions about whether millennials prefer urban living or don’t necessarily or both. Gladwell’s comparison of developmental and generational change helps us to think about urban and suburban development and millennials’ impact thereon. 

Some millennials may “grow out” of an urban living preference. Others will prefer to live in more urban areas their entire lives. In any case, cities must realize that they cannot be all things to all people all the time. Some towns may not attract the 18- to 34-year-olds of today, but they may be able to provide appealing places for the 38- to 54-year-olds 20 years from now. 

At RSG, we enjoy helping city leaders and decision makers think through and act on these complex socio-demographic questions.

Written by Dima Galkin, a Senior Analyst at RSG