Millennials -- that generation born after 1980 but before the turn of the century -- came of age in a time of economic stagnation, fewer jobs, fewer chances for career advancement, lower pay.
Technology has ruled their lives.
They're getting married later in life, starting families later, and moving to smaller cities in droves.
Buffalo has attracted a 34-percent jump in recent college graduate residents, outpacing bigger cities such as Los Angeles.
All of these trends, and more, are attracting the attention of land use planners and informing a new way of looking at planning, said Felipe A. Oltramari, director of the the Genesee County Planning Department, during a presentation at City Hall this morning on the Millennial Generation.
There are 87 million people born in the Millennial decades, about 11 million more than were born during the Baby Boom years.
What they want out of life tends to be far different than Baby Boomers or even Gen-X.
To them, suburbs are dead.
A higher percentage of them than any previous generation have never had a driver's license. Often, they don't own cars.
They're more environmentally aware and socially connected through their digital devices.
The reason they're flocking to cities like Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Portland and Houston is they're more interested in deciding what lifestyle they want before deciding what job they will take, Oltramari said.
Sixty-four percent settle in a city before they get their first job offer.
"It's going to be a difficult job market any place you go, so you might as well go to someplace where you want to live," Oltramari said.
So why not go to New York City instead of Buffalo?
Because it costs a lot more to live in NYC than Buffalo.
So why come to Batavia instead of Buffalo?
Because, Oltramari said, eventually, as Buffalo attracts more Millennials, the cost of living will rise. Adjacent small cities such as Batavia can offer some of the same advantages of bigger cities, but at an affordable price.
Besides, Millennials are the coming economic driver, so Batavia should be planning to be the kind of community they want now; otherwise, we get left behind.
The planning model for this new urbanism is called "form based."
From the 1920s until recently, all planning was built around zoning codes -- what developers cannot do, not what a community wanted.
Planning zones were radically segregated, not just separating, say, residential from industrial, but apartments from houses, offices from retail space, artisans from factories.
Mix-use was a product of the organic growth of American cities in the 19th Century, but planners tried to stamp it out in the 20th Century.
In the post-War years, as suburbs grew and highways were built to accommodate the booming auto industry, planners replaced dense city blocks with strip malls and paved over culturally diverse neighborhoods.
Batavia, with its white elephant of a mall and Urban Renewal conformity, is an example of a city that lost its soul to parking lots and drive-thru restaurants.
"What planners tried to do was try to make our cities more like suburbs, and what did we get? Very bad suburbs," Oltramari said.
Form-based codes allow cities to set a vision for what they want to be.
"Conventional planning looks at use, not at form," said Derik Kane, a senior planner for the county, and himself of the Millennial Generation. "In looking at use, you eliminated things you might want, such as small artisans when you moved out the industry, things like that that make an economy and a community. With form-based codes, instead of eliminating things you don't want, you say what you do want."
For developers, new construction and renovation of existing structures becomes a more streamlined process.
A community with form-based codes doesn't need to require a developer to go through the current lengthy and expensive environmental review process, Oltramari said, because a conforming proposal will already fit within those environmental requirements.
"We need to be moving at the speed of business," said Chris Suozzi, VP of business development for Genesee County Economic Development Center. "Developers don't want delays."
The City Council has already approved funding for a new master plan for Batavia and City Manager Jason Molino said form-based codes will certainly be part of the discussion as the process moves forward.
Urban Renewal did a lot of damage to Downtown Batavia, but there are still positive aspects that can be enhanced.
Kane pointed out that experts in new urbanism recommend you build on successes, rather than trying to fix problems.
For Batavia, that success would center around Jackson Square, especially Jackson Street.
Oltramari suggested borrowing a page from a small Massachusetts city and building over a portion of the parking lot on the west side of Jackson Street and putting up a row of single-story, small retail shops.
Millennials want walkable communities -- remember, they often don't have cars -- which means density, and more retail on Jackson would give them what they want.
County planning is planning on bringing in a walkability expert this summer to study Batavia, but online resources such as WalkScore.com already give Batavia low marks.
On a scale that counts 80 as pretty good, very little of Batavia scores higher than 70 (my house, three blocks south of Downtown Jackson Street, scores 67).
Greater density and more options downtown would help improve those scores, which Millennials look at when deciding where to live.
One issue planners might wrestle with is Baby Boomers still have an auto-oriented mindset. They demand parking. They expect to park right in front of the store they wish to enter. Any proposal to eliminate parking downtown is going to meet resistance, even as data shows it's not necessary.
People will park and walk, or just walk from their residence, if it's an interesting walk, Oltramari said.
"Nobody wants to park on the far edge of the Walmart parking and walk to the store, because it's not interesting," Oltramari said. "But if you measure it, they probably walk at least twice that distance once they get inside the store."
People will walk for blocks and blocks at Disneyland, he noted, and then come home and complain if they can't find a convenient parking place downtown.
For Millennials, if they're living and working in a neighborhood they like, parking simply isn't an issue.
"The good news is, we know how to build this way," Kane said. "We built this way for centuries. Your villages, your main steets, are all walkable places."
Copies of the slides used in Oltramari's presentation along with related material can be found on the Web page for the county planning department.