Why Small Cities Are The New Millennial Dream

Why Small Cities Are The New Millennial Dream

Written by Brianna Wiest

In the 2000s, many popular rom coms began with the same plot points: a young, white woman is spearheading her career at an editorial firm in Manhattan, living in a mid-size, centrally located, well-decorated apartment all while suspiciously not stressing over how she’ll pay the brunch bill each Sunday. (The whitewashing and screenwriters’ projection that all protagonists work in publishing are issues we can unpack at another time.)

It brings to mind the Sex and the City characters, once lauded for portraying liberated, independent women building their careers, who are now seen in a much more critical light. The illusions around idolizing people who lived so unrealistically are shattering. When we consider the SATC type shows of the new generation, like Lena Dunham’s GIRLS, it’s clear that the trends in entertainment reflect our expectations, and the contrast marks an irrefutable shift.

Alongside career trajectory, timelines on home-buying or child-rearing, one other particular pattern is emerging, and it’s fascinating: millennials are no longer sold on the “big city” dream.

In April of this year, The Atlantic published a story on why millennials are leaving major cities in droves, going so far as to call it a “hollowing” of America’s major metropolitan areas. The trend, they said, was a “microcosm” that revealed a sort of scrappiness and resilience. Millennials generally reject things if they exist solely on the basis of “that’s the way they were always done.” We want logic, we want compassion, and we want quality. Mostly, though, we want to live up to our full potential. And our potential is inherently capped when starting salaries are eaten up covering basic costs of living.

This past May, when Tim Gurner told vv that millennials were incapable of purchasing property at rates consistent with the generation prior because they were spending all of their money “on avocado toast,” the response was almost unanimously outraged. The remark was taken out of context, of which was the very real fact that to buy property in your 20s, sacrifices will most likely have to be made (not that your avo toast is holding you back from home ownership). The response, though mostly fueled by the effervescent digital outrage machine, also revealed an important truth: millennials do want it all. They do want to be able to travel, dine out, pay off debt, work a job they don’t loathe, and yes, own property. It’s what is in no small part fueling the migration to smaller cities.

Millennials do not have some of the fiscal privileges of the generations before them, so whether by sheer necessity or recognition that the system won’t change overnight, the strategy has been to seek out and repopulate areas like Minneapolis, Asheville, and of course, Lancaster. The appeal is that they offer what a bigger city cannot: a fraction of the living expenses, a sense of community, access to nature, and entrepreneurial opportunities that wouldn’t be inancially responsible in a more expensive area, nor as well-received in an oversaturated market. Not to mention that in 2017, when more and more people can work remotely, it only makes sense to move somewhere where you can maintain a significantly higher quality of life.

When I was 20 and working as an Editorial Director in Brooklyn, the opportunity to go remote presented itself, and I jumped. As the years go on, I am more and more grateful to have made that choice. I have been able to live on my own, travel, and take career risks, much of which wouldn’t have been possible elsewhere. But more importantly, I have discovered a sense of community, belonging, kindness and openness that is distinctly unique to cities like Lancaster. Choosing to live here wasn’t only the best fiscal decision, it was the best mental and emotional one, too.

It’s not that people are losing sight of the glean and glamour of a city like New York, it’s that they are beginning to value what life feels like over what it looks like. And maybe it looks nice from the view of a Williamsburg walkup, but paying 2/3 of your income for it doesn’t always level out. Pair this with the fact that millennials are more in debt than ever before, and uniquely raised to believe that they are not only capable of achieving whatever they set their minds to, but deserving of a life they love and feel settled in, the idea of migrating somewhere to reconnect with that quality of living becomes not only a feasible option, but the most appealing reality.