Downtown living could be good for baby boomers

Let’s talk about downtown living. After several years in different downtowns, I have some experience with downtown living.

If I could live in downtown Parkersburg I would and I know others who would too. I think there are a lot of people my age who feel the same way. I’m a Baby Boomer and there are about 76 million of us.

We boomers would consider moving to downtown to be near our jobs and live around people like ourselves. We don’t worry as much now about which school is where and we would just as soon pull the equity out of our now-oversized homes.

Besides, while my wife loves yard work, I personally can’t get past the word “work.” I will admit that I love a well-manicured lawn, especially when someone else manicured it.

Still, there are a lot of positives about downtown living beyond not needing a lawn mower.

First is a simplified lifestyle. The 2010 Census estimates that households without children are rapidly increasing. Along with baby boomers, 20- and 30-year olds are marrying late and slow to have children. Both of these groups are looking for living without all the junk you have to store in a garage or a backyard.

Secondly, downtown living is a healthier choice. The article “Why Cul-de-Sacs Are Bad for Your Health” tells of studies that show people who live in downtowns walk more and spend 30 percent less time commuting.

That brings me to another positive. How much money would we save if we drove our automobile 30 percent less? There’s more than just gas and car maintenance. Less traffic means less wear on roads, less need for traffic control needs and, ultimately, less cost to a community.

There are many more positives of downtown living, but let me point out one that’s somewhat intrinsic. I’ve stated before that downtown establishes a community’s identity and culture. It’s what makes us have a sense of place and a common personality. It’s what makes us love our hometowns.

And out of our love of our hometowns comes economic benefit. Recent research suggests when people love the culture of their towns, economic prosperity follows. This research showed communities with the highest percentage of people with a strong emotional connection to their town had the highest GDP growth rates over time.

I’ve mentioned before the challenge downtown Parkersburg faces because of the lack of housing. This problem will only get worse as the demand for housing increases based on the oil and gas business and the industries that will surely follow.

It is just a matter of time before a savvy developer meets that demand and, in doing so, financially succeeds. A smart developer will simply follow the trends by looking at where we have been and plot a course for downtown Parkersburg that many small cities are experiencing. Then we will experience the new life and prosperity that comes with downtown living.


Cecil Childress is General Manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and Chairman of Downtown PKB.