What can the USA teach us about Family friendly urban environments


Millennials unlike their Boomer parents tend to seek out more urban than suburban environments to raise their new and young families – is that true or a throw away line? From personal experience it would be a bit of both with my own parents seeking either suburban or semi rural life styles while myself with my own young family live in a suburban area that borders a future urban area.

By future urban area I mean Papakura Metropolitan Centre – one of the ten Metropolitan Centres in Auckland. The idea of the Metro Centres was to create second tier medium to high density urban centres (only behind the first tier City Centre(s)) surrounded by their semi urban and suburban residential areas (South Auckland with Manukau is an exception). While for some reason Auckland Council has forgotten about the Metropolitan Centres in the City Building Phase this piece from Strong Towns might urge Council to essentially pull finger and transform these suburban centres into urban centres. The idea being that through a stepping down fashion an urbanised Metropolitan Centre would allow their respective residential areas to urbanise as well.


From Strong Towns:


Today we welcome a Strong Towns member, Jennifer Griffin, as a guest writer. Jennifer gave a presentation at the latest Congress for the New Urbanism on the topic of millennial families. This essay is based on that research. You can read Part II of this series here.
My husband John with our first baby girl two years ago in our neighborhood in Brooklyn, NY
Affordable urban living for millennial families with children has the potential to become one of the largest market demands in the near future.My interest in this issue came from my husband’s and my own struggle in dealing with it.  Like many young adults of our millennial generation, my husband and I spent the decade after graduating college living and working in some of the major metropolitan cities in the US and abroad – cities like London, New York, and Washington, DC.  As we entered our 30s and started thinking about having kids, we wanted to find a place to start our family that would allow us to maintain our urban lifestyle with our children, both for our sake and for theirs.  However, as architects and urban designers on middle-class salaries, being able to do so affordably in these top-tier cities seemed impossible.What we desired was to live and work in a great urban neighborhood within these top-tier cities that was safe and inclusive of quality kid-friendly amenities, institutions, and infrastructure.  We longed to settle in places such as Park Slope, Brooklyn, or Columbia Heights, Washington, DC.



Complete package family area
Source: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/6/29/the-next-baby-boom-affordable-urban-lifestyles-for-millennials-with-children

In fact, all the photos immediately above were taken in our walkable, mixed-use neighborhood in Tulsa.  Ultimately, as millennials with children get priced out of the major metropolitan cities, they are now looking at 2nd- and 3rd-tier cities to provide them with what they want.  What they are finding in these 2nd- and 3rd-tier cities is affordable housing in traditional pre-war neighborhoods on the immediate edges of downtown.

Complete package family area 2
Source: Strong Towns

What’s also attracting millennials to these 2nd- and 3rd-tier cities is that they are a size that makes getting involved locally (and making a big impact in the process) possible.  Additionally, given that the suburbs of these cities are where many millennials grew up, relocating to these places puts family (and ultimately child support) within close proximity.  Something to note, however, is that not all collar neighborhoods are equal.  It all depends on where they are on the socio-economic spectrum or in the revitalization process.  What this has created is a variety of scenarios or solutions for attaining “the complete package.”  In the next article, I’ll highlight a few different and creative affordable urban lifestyle models for urban families with kids that we’ve found in Tulsa’s “collar” neighborhoods alone.


Source: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/6/29/the-next-baby-boom-affordable-urban-lifestyles-for-millennials-with-children


Second and Third Tier Cities would be Hamilton and Tauranga for Auckland with Palmerston North being it for Wellington. Given each can be or is linked up by transit rail (see: Guest Lecture: Inter-Regional Planning and Sustainability) the commuting and local employment issue would not be a major one for millienials looking to be outside the major Centres bringing up a young family.

However, if like me you still want to be inside a major Centre like Auckland then there are “collar” neighbourhoods available in Southern Auckland and in part West Auckland (once its transit infrastructure catches up).

Those collar neighbourhoods would be any residential area within about three to five kilometres of a Metropolitan Centre.  Southern Auckland has technically three (Botany, Manukau and Papakura) while West Auckland also has three (New Lynn, Henderson and Westgate). Manukau, Papakura, New Lynn and Henderson are linked up by rail and frequent busses with Westgate and Botany in the pipeline for Light Rail over the next decade. Each of these Metropolitan Centres also has generous amounts of Terraced Housing and Apartment or Mixed Housing Urban zoning around them to support higher density housing a millennial might seek out.



So the framework is laid down for collar urban neighbourhoods to happen around our Metropolitan Centres (note: all our Metropolitan Centres are also linked up to the main City Centre) what is missing is some proactive planning from Auckland Council.


Part Two of the Strong Town series offers some ideas:



In a previous article, I discussed how affordable urban living for millennial families with children has the potential to become one of the largest market demands in the near future.  Moreover, as these urban, forward-thinking, entrepreneurial millennials with kids get priced out of the major metropolitan cities, they are now beginning to relocate to 2nd- and 3rd-tier cities, often in traditional “collar neighborhoods” on the edges of downtown.  These neighborhoods are inclusive of many or all of the desired lifestyle elements that urban millennials with children want (e.g. walkable and mixed-use with quality kid-friendly amenities, institutions, and infrastructure).  Continuing with our case study of Tulsa, OK, let’s now discuss more specifically a number of lifestyle options these millennial families are finding in 2nd- and 3rd-tier cities.

It should be noted that one of the greatest virtues of these traditional, pre-war collar neighborhoods – especially of those in Tulsa – is the incredibly diverse array of housing types seamlessly integrated within them.

Source: Jennifer Griffin via Strong Towns
Source: Jennifer Griffin via Strong Towns

Option One is the classic Missing Middle Housing model.  This basically amounts to buying small in a great urban neighborhood—for example, buying a unit within an attached townhouse courtyard, duplex, fourplex, or 6-flat apartment building.  This is the perfect solution for families looking to be more efficient with their space (and more resourceful with their pocket book), but still with room enough for their kids to be free-range in the leafy green streets, semi-private courtyards, and public parks located within these neighborhoods.  Two great examples of this (among many) in our neighborhood are the duplex courtyard and the six-flat apartment building shown above, both of which have three significant recreational amenities (e.g. a public park, playground, splash pad, bike trail, etc.) located within a 5-minute walk and six within a 10-minute walk.

Source: Jennifer Griffin via Strong Towns

Option two is the Multigenerational Living model.  This is what our family chose to do.  We essentially leveraged our familial and financial assets and bought a slightly larger house with my husband’s parents in one of the highly sought-after collar neighborhoods.  This came at a higher price tag than if we bought in another, not yet fully revitalized collar neighborhood, but it ends up being incredibly affordable for a number of reasons.


Source: Jennifer Griffin via Strong Towns

Finally, Option Three is the Entrepreneurial Communitarian model.  This is similar to multi-generational living, but done with neighbors rather than family members.  It is what our friends Nathan and Kristin (with their two kids) decided to do.  They bought a large house in a less revitalized collar neighborhood – a neighborhood without a good public school and where crime was an issue.  However, their house (for its size) was very inexpensive.  To make things even more affordable and to improve neighborhood safety, they essentially converted their large home into a passive income generator and neighborhood community center.  Living in a top-floor flat in their attic with their two kids, they rent out four other rooms and leave the ground floor as communal space not only for their renters but also for the neighborhood at large, hosting a variety of neighborhood gatherings there throughout the week.  Moreover, they further reduced their operating costs by converting their yard into productive agriculture, complete with a chicken coop and beehives.  They even went so far as to convert the existing in-ground pool in their backyard into a basin for growing edible bamboo (as seen in the top right photo above).

These diverse housing options in an affordable city like Tulsa give my family and other millennial families like mine an array of choices for how we live, work and play. We don’t have to give up the walkable neighborhood in exchange for the good school, or the comfortable home in exchange for nearby amenities. We can choose the housing option that works for us and build a good life there. It’s the complete package.

(All graphics by Jennifer Griffin)


Source: https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/7/11/affordable-urban-lifestyles-for-millennials-with-children-part-ii


The Mixed Housing Urban Zone, and the Terraced Housing and Apartment Zone in the Unitary Plan are both enablers those the housing topologies mentioned above. Transit for the most part is there with the Southern Metropolitan Centres and on its way for the Western Metropolitan Centres so with that and the Unitary Plan 85% of the foundations are in place for urban millennial and even multi-generational housing.

What is missing is political will to lead City building to both drive and encourage these kind of developments. Auckland has an urban development authority called Panuku and Panuku is charged of major regeneration projects like Transform Manukau (some 600ha of land (more than the CBD)) up for renewal). So a prime opportunity for Council and Panuku to spearhead some urban class developments that just might answer Councillor Chris Darby’s housing affordability question.


The options are there is we want to support millienials and that is through our Metropolitan Centres. The catch will become is there any political leadership to see this happening?


The Missing middle
Source: Brent Toderian