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Welcome - my name is Kevin Klinkenberg, and this site "The Messy City" is my blog and company website. I started blogging on urban planning and design issues in 2007, and began working in the field in 1993. Please feel free to connect with me on any of the social media sites listed here. Thanks for reading.

Don't believe the (generational) hype

Don't believe the (generational) hype

20 somethings

This one is for my good buddy Lee Sobel of RCLCO. Lee is a font of information when it comes to the latest trends, studies, etc. This morning he sent me to a link for a book about workplace trends. Essentially, it's another "how to prepare for Gen Y in the workplace" piece. I think Lee enjoys baiting me in the morning.

Perhaps because of early morning grumpiness, I had an immediate negative reaction. You see, I am very tired of the "generational" narratives that dominate the media. I've succumbed to it myself, as we all do from time to time, but it still never ceases to annoy.

The common theme that is repeated ad nauseum in the media is something like, "Gen Y is this giant group of people, so much bigger than the previous generation and (some version of ) they're going to take over!" What are we going to do?! How do we deal with this strange new species of human?!

Can we first at least agree to some basic facts? Below are some numbers I compiled from US Census data from 2011 in a previous blog post. Would it surprise you to realize that there are just as many people in the US in their 40's as in their 20's? That the so-called "huge" group of 20-somethings is only 8% bigger than the group just ahead of them in their 30's?

60′s: 29,590,000

50′s: 41,519,000

40′s: 42,576,000

30′s: 39,457,000

20′s: 42,907,000

I know facts can be uncomfortable, but those are the facts. There simply is no huge difference in the population from one age cohort to another, at least not in the US. Those numbers of people in their 40's were all born in the years after the "baby boom," which is another phrase that gets defined by whomever is writing about it. The truth is that generational narratives have been created by journalists and other self-interested types for decades now, in order to spin a certain viewpoint. For the most part they are flat-out bs.

Yes, it's true that younger people are enjoying different lifestyles, goods, services etc. than their parents; as has nearly always been the case in human history, or at least modern human history. The changes I write about frequently on this blog, such as the preferences for more walking and biking, are clearly strongest among younger people. But, the changing preferences are noticeable in every age range. Check the data relative to ten or twenty years ago, or just test it with your own peers. Younger people are simply quicker to adopt change and new ideas because, well, they're young. It's easier to change when less of your life is "settled." We're more open-minded generally when we're young. We're eager to be different than people older than us. As we age, we get a little more set in our ways because (for many of us) we already have sampled life and we know what we like. It's a natural tendency. I don't need to experiment anymore with drinking cheap beer or wine, for example, because I know that you get what you pay for.

So let's not get fixated on the idea that there's some stark difference between human beings that are 25 and those that are 45 or 65. And, please, let's at least use real data when discussing demographics instead of repeating lines that we've heard over and over.

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How architects use propaganda

How architects use propaganda

Friday photo 12/13/13: Where am I?

Friday photo 12/13/13: Where am I?