How boomers and millennials are
shaping the way we live in Atlanta
Delilah Miller was surprised one day when she peered through her binoculars while birdwatching from the balcony of her mid-rise apartment building in Buckhead. Instead of catching sight of hummingbirds, she found herself staring at a sign she hadn’t seen before.
Directly across the street from her apartment complex — a haven for mostly millennials and generation X renters — construction workers were laboring on a new 55-plus community.
“I was shocked beyond belief,” said Miller, 57, who was surprised to see an active aging community being built in a bustling urban area. She was pleased to see that developers were responding to the housing needs of her generation. “Kudos to Atlanta for listening to baby boomers,” she said.
The sentiment is increasingly common in metro Atlanta as residents of all ages seek a variety of ways to live life on their own terms. Regardless of age, many Atlantans want walkable neighborhoods, green spaces, great restaurants and entertainment options. When those elements are present in a concentrated area, the resulting communities become models of age-based diversity — attracting the young, the old and all ages in between.
Photo: An aerial view of downtown Atlanta in 1962. AJC file
Flashback to the 1960s and the scene in downtown Atlanta wasn’t much different. Young and old residents lived in apartments above retail centers and flowed to the streets below to enjoy meals and shopping, said Michael Sizemore, principal of the Sizemore Group, an Atlanta-based architectural firm. But things began to change in the late ’60s. Baby boomers increasingly sought out single-family houses and cheap land in the suburbs, leaving the once vibrant urban communities behind to deteriorate.
“That was a single-family detached, leave-me-alone type of environment,” Sizemore said. Add to that the white flight of the 1970s, which created segregated schools, “and that further exacerbated that tendency,” he said.
Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, developers focused on building single-family detached homes, particularly in suburban communities as demand from baby boomers with families grew, he said. Jobs followed the homes, and young boomers followed the jobs. Then came the rapid development of suburban apartment complexes.
But in the 1990s, a reversal began. Reflecting a national trend, metro area residents began moving back to urban areas. Developers saw the value in redeveloping downtown centers in metropolitan areas like Atlanta as well as in suburban towns such as Smyrna and Duluth.
For decades, boomers have dominated the conversation about how we live, but now the needs of a new generation are changing that.
“From a broad perspective, we can look at what is happening during the boomers’ maturation as a guide,” said Mike Carnathan of the Research & Analytics division of the Atlanta Regional Commission. “Boomers reshaped society in fundamental ways at every point in their aging, and will continue to do so. Think of the Great Society (Pres. Lyndon B. Johnson’s efforts to eliminate poverty and racial injustice), civil rights, the Hope scholarship here in Georgia. And now, as they retire, what will that mean for the so-called entitlement programs of Medicare and Social Security? With millennials now surpassing the number of boomers, that scale of impact – whatever that impact may be – seems likely.”
Photo: Avalon in Alpharetta is among the growing number of walkable urban centers. AJC file
One way that impact has been felt is in the growth of walkable urban places — highly pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use areas where residential units coexist with restaurants, shops, office space, parks or plazas. Avalon in Alpharetta, built with millennials in mind, is a prime example with its mix of single-family homes, apartments, a multi-screen movie theater and an array of commercial businesses.
In the 1990s, roughly 13 percent of all real estate development in Atlanta occurred in walkable urban places. Today, it’s 60 percent, said Carnathan. And they range from Midtown to Woodstock, effectively blurring the lines between what we have traditionally considered urban and suburban lifestyles.
“We find the argument that there are millennials who need a place to live and aren’t going to bring a lot of kids into the school system,” Sizemore said. “Apartments once again are coming into communities. We now call them mixed-use … and (they are) popping up all over the place with a formula and design that you could almost order over the phone from an architect.”
Millennials are the most ethnically diverse generation in U.S. history and the most educated, but they face high rates of unemployment or underemployment. They may delay marriage, having children and home ownership. And they are looking for ways to connect with others. Those characteristics inform the way they want to live.
“We are a vastly diverse group of people. Even in the time we have been known as millennials, I think our focus has shifted,” said Kyle Hood, 32, city manager of Tyrone who lives in Peachtree City. “I think we are wanting to get back to the way communities were developed and driven generations ago. Where people are closer to each other and there is some sort of social fabric of individual communities. Opening doors again as opposed to everybody shutting themselves off in silos.”
While millennials may be a driving force behind the growth of walkable urban areas, residents of all ages are embracing them.
Photo: Oliver House in Decatur is an is an 80-unit affordable housing complex for senior citizens. AJC file
Baby boomers like Delilah Miller have seen developers speaking directly to them with the construction of active adult communities designed for those age 55 and older.
Nationally, construction of active adult communities has more than doubled since 2013. The metro area alone has more than 40 such communities that cater to aging boomers who wish to maintain an active lifestyle as they move into retirement. But even among boomers, diversity in choice is key. Not everyone over age 55 wants to segregate themselves in an age-restricted community.
While the choices are increasing, not everyone is able to live the way they want to live.
Affordable housing is a growing issue for many metro area residents. The median rent in metro Atlanta has climbed 34 percent since 1980, while the median income for renters is up just 9 percent. An activist group called the Housing Justice League recently appealed to the city of Atlanta, to create more balance in housing options so everyone can live as they choose.
Planners, developers and residents all say they hope we will see more housing and lifestyle options in metro Atlanta in the future, and when we do, we’ll likely have boomers and millennials to thank for it.
Christa Huffstickler, 36
VP of Atlanta Fine Homes Sotheby
Lives in high-rise condo above hotel, Midtown
22 years in metro Atlanta
I was a military kid and ended up in Atlanta when I started high school in the suburbs. We had a yard, but we got in our car to do everything. As an adult there was something about the energy of being in a city center that was very appealing to me, and I didn’t think that was something we should sacrifice because we decided to have a family.
We started in a condo before we had kids (6-year-old daughter, 18-month-old twin girls). We really loved the lifestyle associated with that, being able to walk to stuff. We have almost non-existent commutes. I have lived in Loews Atlanta Hotel for four years.
This building is special. Living above the hotel is a cool feature. Any amenity that is available to a hotel guest is available to us. Life is getting busier, and we are getting more successful in our careers and the one thing we can’t get more of is time. Living in a place like this gives us time.
People say kids want a backyard. I promise you, my backyard (Piedmont Park) will blow yours away. That is the big draw of living in Midtown versus other neighborhoods — going to the park and hitting the Beltline. My 6-year-old thinks it is perfectly normal that she gets into an elevator every day. When other kids draw pictures of their houses, she draws a picture of a high-rise. She tells people, I live in a hotel. I tell her we are not gypsies, you have a home.
We are all together in the mornings, up having breakfast, getting ready and talking about our day. My husband takes our daughter to school. I get the babies ready for the day. We reconvene at home about 5:30 or 6 p.m. and typically will start dinner or order dinner — room service from the hotel or Zifty. Then we get out in the neighborhood. We love the Beltline. Weekends are very flexible, and we spend a lot of time outside. During festival season, we are at all the festivals in the park. On Saturdays, we have the green market and we buy bread or scones and buy vegetables.
The only thing for me that would make this better would be if there were more people with families and kids living in my neighborhood. We have to make more of an effort to go into those environments.
We don’t know what the next chapter in life may or may not bring, but we are happy we are able to live this life that we are living.
Bob Cherrie, 71
Lives in single-family home in the 55-plus active community, Canton
30 years in metro Atlanta
I am from Canada. I moved (to Canton) in 2007. The positive is that if you want someone to manage your time, there are two full-time coordinators. We literally have something happening every day and if you need that, wonderful. We are on a public golf course so that adds a lot of activity. There is an extremely active tennis group. There are six cooking clubs, including cooking clubs for men, and there are trips planned.
On the downside, you can’t put a bunch of 55-plus-year-olds in a bus and not experience illness and some polarized views. Probably 60 percent of the conversations are Medicare discussions. You kind of go with the flow of it.
Three years ago, I built a home in North Carolina because I needed to escape from the active adult community. There are issues with active adult communities and people need to understand it is not all smooth sailing. At that stage of life you become very myopic, in my opinion.
We go out into the broader community. At the polo fields there is a monthly concert where you bring your dinner Chastain style. We search out the restaurants outside of Canton. Canton could be what Woodstock is, but it is not.
We do like Cherokee county taxes. It is a nice benefit at 71 years of age. We get good fire support and good EMT support. The hospitals in Canton are going upscale. Once you leave Canton, your hospital options begin to dilute dramatically.
In our community we have a very strong subdivision of religions. You have a great sharing of culture from that point of view and you have lots of opportunity to travel with people. We have been on four group vacations with about half a dozen people.
I miss downtown Atlanta. My wife and I volunteer for the Atlanta Community Food Bank and when they have their ball, I go there and serve food. We get a hotel room in Atlanta for two nights. In the winter, my wife goes to Lenox Mall and gets her shopping done.
It takes planning to enjoy the beauty of Atlanta.
Kayla Hurd, 11
Middle school student and teen entrepreneur
Lives in a single-family home, Johns Creek
11 years in metro Atlanta
I was born and raised in Johns Creek. I go to Taylor Road Middle School. In the morning when I am forced to get out of bed, I wake up and brush my teeth and get dressed. I pick out my clothes the night before and check the weather forecast. I hate jeans. I like T-shirts and leggings. It is a lot of walking around at school and leggings are comfortable especially in winter. The bus comes at 8:12 a.m. Sometimes. One time the bus came at 9 a.m.
I don’t eat breakfast. Lunch is at 10:50 a.m. at school. For lunch I have Subway. I love Subway; that is my favorite. Last week, I decided to become a vegetarian. I was on Facebook and saw a video saying if you eat chicken watch this. I saw a video of pigs, chickens and cows being killed and their tails getting cut off. It was so sad and now me and Amaya are vegetarians until July 25. We are going to see how it goes.
My friends and I don’t talk. We text. Even if we are in the same room, we text and we are on Instagram, Snapchat and Musically. Sometimes we go to my old school and we may talk, but we don’t talk about things that are important. Sometimes we are just getting our anger out. My friends don’t like a lot of people. I really don’t dislike anyone.
The most exciting thing about my life is having a business at a young age, Simply Kakes. I make lined bags and give 10 percent of profits to breast cancer charity. My mom was diagnosed in 2014, and I wanted to help families that were going through the same journey my family was going through. I have always tried to do a bunch of things like knitting, but that didn’t turn out so well. Gymnastics went well, then I got bored. I got a sewing machine. I thought of a couple of designs for me to do, and we went to the fabric store and tried to figure out size, colors and zipper colors. At first it was just me sewing and now it is a business.
Johns Creek is really creative. It has a lot of culture and a lot of diversity. Everyone is really happy and is happy to be with other people. We go to food trucks in Alpharetta on Thursday. Everyone goes and you get to meet people.
But I want to live in California. I just like how it is on the other side of the country and it is a different time zone and it is a city but not as big as New York. In Los Angeles, there are celebrities and my favorite You Tubers are there. I have 36 subscribers on my You Tube channel. My morning routine video got 230 views.
I am the youngest at my school and everyone is turning 13, and I’m still 11 and my birthday is in September, so I have to wait another month so I can be 12. I have always been the youngest and sometimes people are like, you are so young. I don’t think it is bad that I am young.
SEE KAYLA TALK ABOUT HER LIFE AND HER BUSINESS IN THE VIDEO BELOW
Sewvandi “Andi” Guruge, 45
Lives in single-family home, Stockbridge
8 years in metro Atlanta
It is still country over here. No improvements. And I would say the politicians don’t care about others. They just live with their personal interests. We are trying to do a business here, and we get no support from the government.
I’m here about eight years in Henry County. I have another business on Walt Stephens Road. Up until last year, the area was fine and all of sudden they have had two break-ins. They broke into my emissions station. People just don’t have respect. It is sad.
Henry County needs a lot of improvements on the roads and streetlights because it is kind of getting scary these days. There were two back-to-back shootings, and I’m like, “That is the road I always take to go home.” I don’t blame the police either. They are just doing their job. People have their egos and think because you have a gun…
Stockbridge is not the best place I would love to be, but I am married and my businesses are here now, so I am stuck.
I would want to go back home to Sri Lanka.
Delilah Miller, 57
Client service representative at a law firm
Lives in high-rise apartment, Buckhead
35 years in metro Atlanta
I was born in Tampa and moved to Atlanta in 1981. I was living in Midtown at 12th and Juniper. I work around the corner from there now at a law firm. I moved to Texas while my husband was in the Air Force then came back to Atlanta in 1988. I was a gate agent and ticket agent for an airline. Then I got into the retail industry. I was a single mom in the retail industry teaching people through seminars for wardrobing.
Atlanta has a lot of support if you need it, but more support should be there for women, especially for mass transit. I never had to ride MARTA, but I see women with strollers and babies alone. MARTA should connect the arteries of the city and suburbs.
In 1996, when the Olympics came, it was mind-blowing that there were so many people in Atlanta. It made me want to stay here, not just because of the history but because of what Atlanta had to offer. My family members began moving to Atlanta. Riverdale was my first home in 1996. I wanted to live near family members. I took my son out of Clayton County schools and moved to Fayetteville, where I lived for 11 years. It was family oriented, a great place, but I’m a city girl.
As I get older I want to live my dream of living in the city. I moved to Buckhead. I love living in the city so much. The city now has so much to offer in entertainment and sports. I love the parks and the festivals. I volunteer for the Dogwood Festival. I’m dating an artist, and we will be participating in these festivals.
The shopping in Atlanta is fabulous. You don’t have to go to California or New York for a good restaurant. I chose where I live because it is within 15 minutes of everything I like to do in Brookhaven, Buckhead and Midtown. I’m glad they put in bike lanes for people who want to ride bikes, but they need to make it safer.
My life is still evolving, I feel like I still have another 30 years to go. Most people work longer now because they know they need the money. Why live in Midtown or Buckhead if you can’t afford a ticket to the High Museum or afford to shop at Publix?
I have worked as an extra on Tyler Perry films. I’m now taking (acting) classes. I am sitting in class with millennials. Millennials have no fear of failure. They don’t have to have what we thought made us successful. Tomorrow is not promised to any of us. Millennials have taught me to embrace my creativity.
Perry Tanner, 69
Lives in single-family home, Woodstock
40-plus years in metro Atlanta
I have lived in Atlanta since the 1970s. My wife and I both worked in downtown Atlanta for years. We used to live in Marietta. The idea of being able to walk to restaurants and to various activities was very appealing to us. My wife and I are the same age, and I think it is important for us to get as much exercise as we can. The restaurants in Woodstock make it nice to walk. It is like living in a small village.
We love the fact that we get to know everyone. We are both retired now and one of the things that would have been a disadvantage is if we were still working in downtown Atlanta would be the traffic.
We have friends in Cherokee County in a 55-plus active community. We love to visit our friends up there, but everyone is pretty much the same age. I honestly think that for reasons I can’t describe, it just seemed like it would be more exciting to be in an environment where there were people and children that were our grandchildren’s ages and our children’s age. I like the idea of being able to interact with children who are playing in the neighborhood. It has the tendency to expose you to other viewpoints, activities and other lifestyles.
We have gotten very involved in the community. My wife started a group called GROW. They plant flowers and beautify the downtown area. We attend several meetings every week. We enjoy being able to get out and walk around the neighborhood — we both invested in a Fitbit. We try to get 10,000 steps a day. It is pretty easy when you have a very safe environment to walk in.
You have the amphitheater that is being rebuilt and will hold quite a few people. We have the Century House Tavern in downtown Woodstock and Reel Seafood and there are few Italian restaurants that are great. Elm Street Cultural Arts Center had a rock musical not long ago. The talent was phenomenal. One of the performers had been in the Broadway production.
We have an unusual problem in Woodstock that is a good problem to have. We have become a destination. We have a problem sometimes with people not being able to find a parking place. Eventually we will have a parking deck.
There is one other thing that is appealing. The taxes. Several people who have moved into our neighborhood from California are in heaven. I sound like I work for the city, but I really don’t.
Kyle Hood, 32
Tyrone city manager
Lives in single-family home, Peachtree City
32 years in metro Atlanta
I am a native of Clayton County and a product of the Clayton County school system.
I moved to Fayette County specifically for the job I have now. Because of what I do for a living, I wanted to be closer to where the political nucleus of our state was. Being in a rural community in west central Georgia wasn’t providing me the opportunity to be involved in the socioeconomic landscape of the state at the level that I wanted.
People walk in and say they want to see the city manager and most days I will try to find time for them. The blessing and the curse of being the closest to the people is I can actually make relatively effective change and I can see their faces when it happens.
I am a season ticket holder for all the Atlanta sports teams. I have scheduled which Hawks, Braves and Dream games I am going to attend. Yes, I go to WNBA games. I have my Orangetheory fitness classes in the evening planned out.
I have met a great deal of wonderful young professionals in Fayette and Coweta counties. We are a small but mighty group of people — the millennials. I think if I were any farther away from Atlanta it would be problematic to my social life. I can leave work on time and still make the first pitch for Braves games during the week. On the weekends, getting into the city isn’t terribly difficult. It would be easier if public transportation came farther out into the suburbs on the Southside.
Living in Peachtree City and in Fayette County, everything you need is available. We have great restaurants and places to go and have a drink. We have recreation and other quality of life amenities.
The fact that so many people find that metro Atlanta is the best place for them to start a business or raise a family says something about the people here. We are going through a bit of a renaissance period. The metro area in particular hasn’t seen this kind of influx of regional, national and international dollars and cultural influences. We are going to be Hotlanta again in so many ways.
The thing that is disappointing to me is I believe we are still one generation removed from all of these people identifying as Atlantans or Georgians. They are relocating here and retaining their loyalties to those other places. It is very apparent at sporting events and bars and restaurants. I would love to see people welcome Atlanta and the state of Georgia into their lives in the same way we have opened ours to them.
Sidney Maurice, 16, and Carter Maurice, 14
High school students
16 and 14 years, respectively, in metro Atlanta
Sidney: I wake up about 6 a.m. and get to the bus around 7:30 a.m..
Carter: I wake up and eat breakfast and brush my teeth and get ready for school. I go on the bus and usually talk to my friends a little.
Sidney: I started off in sixth grade playing violin and I didn’t like it at all. I like the uniqueness of the bassoon. I am passionate about music. It surpasses any language. It can reach anyone in different ways. I went to China for band last April. It was awesome because none of us spoke the same language but we were playing together and expressing this beautiful music. We were playing a mix of American themes songs from Star Wars and Chinese pop tunes.
Carter: I love fishing, it is like my life. I am obsessed with fishing. It gets you calm. I have a creek right outside my house. We spend hours fishing. We get in the zone.
Sidney: Most of my friends are into music too. Some are in chorus and some aren’t. We are all extroverted and we are friendly with everyone. We fit into any crowd at school. In summer we go to the pool but our new hangout spot is Marietta Square. There are a lot of unique stores and a new place called Tiny Bubbles Tea Bar that serves bubble teas.
Carter: I get out of school at 4:15 p.m. If I have homework, I do that. If I don’t, I like to hang outside and see if any of my friends can hang. Sometimes I play lacrosse. Or we may go out in the woods and explore. If we play lacrosse, I get my stick and we pass a couple of times and we will shoot or work on a drill. In the woods, we may build a fort.
Sidney: My sister is 10 and she is obsessed with Musically. I don’t think a lot of high schoolers are into that. For me, I find that Instagram is most popular and I love Facebook but nobody else does. I like to see what is happening in the world, but no one else likes to read.
Carter: Middle school was different. I liked our homework because we didn’t get too much but we got enough so we actually learned something. I love math. Not a lot of people like math. It comes to me. I get in the zone with math just like fishing. It feels right.
Sidney: I have a lot of connections to teenagers in other areas. In Atlanta it is different because you can walk to places. There are parts of Georgia that are nowhere, so you have to drive 20 minutes to get anywhere.
Carter: I run into friends that don’t live near me. We sometimes hang out. I run into them all the time at Target or something like that.
Sidney: I just got my driver’s license, but the traffic and parking in Atlanta scares me. I like the independence. If I want to go somewhere, I can go somewhere as long as I figure out how to park. I am in a family of three kids and sometimes that gets a little hectic.
Carter: I am excited that she got her driver’s license. I can be like, Hey, Sidney, drive me somewhere please. And she’ll do it.
Sidney: Life is amazing and wherever you live you should embrace it completely.
Generations by the numbers
4.3 million residents in metro Atlanta
25% Generation Z (ages 0-17)
23% Millennials (ages 18-34)
22% Generation X (ages 35-49)
23% Baby Boomers (ages 50-69)
7% Eisenhower Generation (age 70 and older)
Source: The Atlanta Regional Commission: 2015
AGES OF ATLANTA
This is the first in a five-part series about how age shapes life in Atlanta, from faith and food to music and media.