10 Jun Hometown Exodus? Gen Y, The Great Migration, and Huntington, Ind.
I was recently reading an online article by Nathan Norris about the “Great Migration”: Generation Y, the under-30 Millennial crowd, and its mass exodus from small-town America to urbanized areas (to read it for yourself, click here). While the Boomers bought into the promise and safety of suburbia post-WWII, Norris claims that Millennials are moving in droves to the cities, seeking opportunity and diverse lifestyles. Norris’ interpretation is supported by an array of evidence, with small towns across the states reporting community “brain drain.” What do our hometowns have to offer us? Casey Sill wrote, “Ask that question to most members of generation Y and the answer will likely sound like a Toby Keith song. Dirt roads, cheap beer. Nothing to do but drive those dirt roads and drink that cheap beer.”
Despite Norris’ observations (granted, he wrote the article two years ago, and the economic landscape has changed a lot since then), I’ve seen more and more Millennials staying or moving back to their hometowns. This is most likely due to the bleak outlook and fierce competition for job opportunities anywhere, city or not. To add insult to injury, according to a recent Pew Research Center Study, 36% of 18-31 year old adults are living with their parents — and the number is growing.
As unfortunate as it might seem to older generations that young adults are needing a bit more financial help, an interesting opportunity is presenting itself, a solution to wrinkle-inducing “brain drain.”
Suddenly, hometowns that were fading are full of young talent and innovative ideas for economic and community development. I found an example of this in Toppo and Overburg’s story in April about “post-college towns,” like Alexandria, Va., or Chattanooga, Tenn., or heck, even Columbus, Ohio, that are experiencing a complete economic overhaul and revitalization as a result of of a high millennial population
“The demographic change.. . has opened up previously sketchy neighborhoods for development, a change that for many locals has been nothing short of breathtaking.”
…”‘The whole face of this city has changed in a year-and-a-half,’ says David Crowley, a co-owner of The Alley, a popular sports bar that boasts eight lanes of bowling. It’s located in a rapidly changing industrial area about a mile north of downtown, and Crowley says the enterprise would have been unimaginable until recently.”
These insights were a source of tremendous hope for me. The city of Huntington has a slowly growing population of twenty-somethings that are passionately committed to the future and development of Huntington’s culture and community. Our city could look something like Alexandria with a bit of creativity and intention. As Jillian Sutherland noted in her article about the development of Western communities:
“Small towns are often full of history, boasting beautiful older structures and wonderful, gridded, small-block street networks, which all provide unique opportunities for revitalization. There seems to be a natural connection between a younger generation that is struggling to find work they are passionate about, and small communities that are searching for creative economic development strategies.”
I was struck by a project I came across on The New York Times’ photojournalism blog, Lens, this morning. It’s called My Hometown, an interactive online project that encouraged teenagers to photograph their communities through their own eyes. I’m sure you can imagine some of the images that might come from Huntington — some that would evoke pride, others that would make you wince. If Huntington were given some fresh starts, imagine what sort of photos would come from this city’s teenagers in a few years.
Some Millennials feel like moving back to their hometown means that they’re a failure. But we can do something extraordinary when we believe in our neighbors. We can live and love where we are from, and affect change that will keep our community thriving.
If you are passionate about Huntington and would like to be involved in a conversation about your aspirations and vision for the community, please email smorin@