20-Somethings Move Into Neighborhoods And Offer Nothing

by Mark Wellborn

Lydia DePillis over at Housing Complex had an interesting re-post today of an item from The Atlantic’s Future of the City blog that examines whether or not “20-somethings weaken communities they inhabit for a few months or a few years before moving on.”

The Future of the City blog used the Brooklyn neighborhood of Park Slope as a case study for this theory, which is appropriate if you are familiar with “The Slope”. Once dominated by moms and strollers, Park Slope has become a popular area in the past decade for young professionals who don’t mind squeezing three people into a legal one-bedroom to pay cheap rent.

The author of this item admitted that when he lived in Park Slope, he did not register to vote, read neighborhood publications, try to meet people in neighboring buildings, or volunteer locally. While to many, this civic inactivity may seem unfortunate, long-term residents likely appreciate that the three-year residents are not getting involved. DePillis seems to agree:

“Living in different places is clearly a great thing for a young folks’ development, but how can they do so without seeming like a plague of locusts to the communities where they take up residence? The answer, it would seem, is that if you’re only planning to be in a place for a few years, treat it like a delicate ecosystem—learn about it, care for it, but leave no trace.”

This opinion makes sense to us. Essentially, if you are not planning on buying or staying in a specific area, do not get involved in shaping the face of the neighborhood to suit your needs if you will be heading elsewhere in the near-term.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments section.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/20-somethings_move_into_neighborhoods_and_offer_nothing/2125


  1. SImonF said at 4:43 pm on Tuesday June 1, 2010:

    Interesting theory. I agree that unless you are going to be a long-term resident, you should stay out of the decision-making processes for the policies and rules of the neighborhood that you live in. I have lived in Kalorama for about three years, but will likely be buying in another neighborhood soon, so trying to influence local customs and regulations would just be selfish at this point.

  1. Diane said at 7:22 pm on Tuesday June 1, 2010:

    Affordable housing is a real problem with no easy solution.  Gentrification has upsides and downsides.  Sure, young professionals sometime fuel gentrification by seeking “affordable” housing—but what is the alternative?

    I agree that many young people do not get involved in local government.  More should (unless they’re just there for the summer, maybe).  I’m young and involved, so I have a bias (but I’m not planning to leave my neighborhood anytime soon).  Young people can help counter act the anti-change views of the longtimers in positive ways.  Do longtimers necessarily like this? No. I’ve seen newcomers excluded from the civic process—no apartment-dwellers allowed to join civic association, for example.

  1. Janson said at 11:22 am on Wednesday June 2, 2010:

    Fascinating topic. It’s a little tricky, however, to know what one’s own intentions are for later in life. I also find it difficult to imagine discouraging a 20 something from engaging in their civic community. We ask them to buy local, to consume ecologically, to limit their water and electricity use, to not be noisy, and a million other things. It seems like those rare 20 somethings that want to engage, deserve it. I’d also like to propose that young people’s enthusiasm is valuable and that they may also make up a disproportionate share of early adopters, which makes them helpful to learn from. Finally, don’t renters of all ages serve as a proxy for the absent landowner? When I was an early 20 something in Park Slope many years ago I didn’t vote, but I was an eager booster of the neighborhood, spent my money nearby, and helped rehab the apartment I was renting. I helped shape the face of the neighborhood to suit me, and in my opinion, the neighborhood benefited even though I only lived there for four years.

  1. PleasantPlainer said at 11:22 am on Wednesday June 2, 2010:

    I have to disagree. If these “types” of residents (not necessarily the individuals living in a neighborhood currently per se) are anticipated to be a part of the neighborhood fabric for a long time, than they should be encouraged to engage and be a part of the decision making process. Otherwise, they will not have it in them to “learn about it, care for it, but leave no trace”. If there are rentals serving these 20-somethings, then they should participate just as much as elderly renters should. Their engagement could leave a legacy for the next 20-something residents who will likely be more understood and ideally welcome in the area. Their voice and perspective are valid. They may even point out things that their landlords won’t as their landlords may never be around, and their “outsider” status may cause them to speak out about things that others tolerate. They can also look out for neighbors interests and be “eyes on the street”. Finally, you’re prepping them for civic engagement when they finally put roots down. I can’t see a down side.

  1. Morgan said at 12:00 pm on Wednesday June 2, 2010:

    I think that this is a valid theory that makes a lot of sense, but just because you own your house in a neighborhood, doesn’t mean that you get the last say.  Young or old, renting or owning, family or single, ideally it is important that everyone participates and has a say in their community.  I think it is stupid for someone to encourage a young person NOT to get involved in politics (local or in general) because they are “temporary” residents, they could have beneficial ideas and plus I believe that a neighborhood should change with its residents.  If one wants more of an inclusive community, go to a gated or condo community or really get out of DC.  DC is a mecca of young professionals, so they are expected to be everywhere because there is a lot of opportunity here.  Haha but please bear in mind that I am a young professional myself who has been in my neighborhood for almost 5 years (H Street/Atlas).  When the Census rolls around everyone wants to make sure that everyone is accounted for, but when it comes to neighborhood politics, only ‘long-term’ residents and owners have a real say.  I think that is silly.

  1. Kate said at 12:12 pm on Thursday June 3, 2010:

    I’ve been renting in the same Cap Hill Neighborhood for about a decade now.  I get tired of people acting like “renters” are some sort of plague on humanity.  Some are obnoxious,  but so are some property owners.

    I don’t see the point in discouraging people from getting involved in local issues.  Plus, DC is my home, while I probably will leave my immediate block sometime fairly soon, I’m not going to leave the city.  Exactly how much longer do I need to stick around before I count?

  1. Bellamy said at 1:16 pm on Thursday June 3, 2010:

    @ Kate—As a ten-year resident of the same neighborhood, I don’t think that you fall into the category of people that the Atlantic blog is talking about. It is more focused on those people that live there for a couple years and then leave.

  1. DCster said at 2:41 pm on Thursday June 3, 2010:

    I don’t think there is a good excuse not to register to vote - obviously there are more than local elections on the ballot every 2 years.  I think involvement in other ways makes sense as well, with the exception of things involving longer-term changes (ie new infrastructure planning) that will long outlast that person’s stay.

  1. lauren said at 4:23 pm on Thursday June 3, 2010:

    A couple of thoughts: Not all homeowners have the best interest of the neighborhood as a whole in mind either. For example you can find ANC reps who oppose development that a majority of residents would support. Secondly, in many neighborhoods in DC renters are the majority. It would seem weird to me to have a setup of neighborhood governance run entirely by a minority (property owners).

  1. Brian said at 11:09 pm on Monday June 7, 2010:

    It’s odd to read this article referring to Park Slope.  Most 20-somethings I know are avoiding Park Slope like the plague BECAUSE of the uptight bland place that it has become.  They should be thrilled to have the vitality and new ideas coming in from the 20-somethings.  Volunteering at the food co-op doesn’t necessarily make you the perfect neighbor…a pulse of your own would help.

    - signed, a 39.8 year old

Comments are closed.

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