UP FRONT – Facing the future – Planning guru: Millenials will change the way we create communities

Posted on Mar 1, 2012 :: Up Front
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

WORLD-RENOWNED URBAN planning expert Tony Nelessen delivered some “hard, tough recommendations” for the future of communities in the New North at February’s InDevelopment Conference in Appleton.

High on his list: Incorporate a variety of transportation options. Include pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. Above all, pay attention to what the Millennial generation wants.

“They think as a team, and this is going to transform everything,” Nelessen told the crowd of about 300 area developers, real estate professionals, municipal officials and other business leaders who attended the Insight-sponsored conference Feb. 3. The Millennial generation includes young people in their early 30s down to their early teens.

The Rutgers University professor, principal at A. Nelessen Associates, Belle Mead, N.J., and author of Visions for a New American Dream, emphasized the need for collaboration. Local, state and federal officials as well as developers, bankers, engineers and environmentalists must work together as they plan a future for the next generation, he said.

“The baby boom generation will no longer be in control by 2020,” Nelessen said. “It will become a whole other world. The question is, ‘How can you profit from it?’ I think the profitability is enormous, if the right decisions are made.”

In one of the four breakout sessions held during the conference, Jim Bath of Kimberly-Clark Corp. also discussed the importance of demographic and economic trends. The company, for instance, is adapting to the aging baby boomer generation and changing family structure. Like any company, it has watched economic trends as well, said Bath, director of the Research and Engineering Center of Excellence for North American

and European Personal Care at K-C.

“People always ask me, ‘When are the spending habits of consumers going to bounce back to where they were in the 1990s or early 2000s?’ I’m not sure they will. I think people have a different understanding of value now than they did before,” Bath said.

John DeLeers, business development manager for DeLeers Construction and a member of the InDevelopment Event Planning Committee, said Nelessen’s keynote speech, which emphasized the importance of developing pedestrian-centric communities, resonated

with him.

“He got me thinking about a lot on urban development – things I never imagined and that people don’t talk about around here,” DeLeers said.

One of Nelessen’s points in particular was interesting: Cold and snowy weather doesn’t keep Europeans off the streets or out of open market areas, a point punctuated by photographs of bundled people gathering on snowy streets. DeLeers was intrigued by the idea of having an outside center for people to gather year-round, where things were always going on despite snow and cold.

Nelessen continued his visit with a breakout session that included a ranking of development ideas for the New North region (everyone in the session – 100 percent of the participants – said adding more bike paths to the area would be desirable).

“The session was extremely insightful,” said Ann Duginske, R&D project manager for New North. “With his leadership and questions we were able to realize the common things we want to see in our future communities. It was fascinating to realize that the majority of rankings were positive, favoring things like more green space and bike trails. But, most importantly, the majority of answers were optimistic about the ability for us to work together to create these kinds of changes. I was inspired.”

OMNNI Associates project manager Brian Oleson, who also served on the InDevelopment Event Planning Committee, said he enjoyed learning about self-directed IRAs during the booth talks, and that the event is always great for connecting.

“Everybody seemed to be excited to be there,” Oleson said. “People were optimistic, and it seems like there’s a lot of hope that things are turning around.”