Photo: Hannah Letinich

Top 7 Takeaways From Our Millennial Panel

The dirty secret of affordability, ambivalence towards labels and more.

Tuesday night we gathered with over 100 people at 400 Fairview in South Lake Union, with DJ Burnt ZZA and Sub Pop tunes, and a panel discussion to celebrate our recent Millennials research, which has been riding high on a wave of publicity. The release kicked up a duststorm of millennial-related talk in the local press. You may have seen it on the front page of the Seattle Times and other publications.

Fittingly, our panel was all-millennial. With local journalist Hanna Brooks Olson moderating, our panel featured Holly Beale, Energy Analyst at Microsoft, Leda Chahim, Forterra’s Government Affairs Director and Shaun Scott, filmmaker and author of Millennials and the Moments That Made Us: A Cultural History of the U.S. from 1984 – Present.

A freewheeling conversation followed a brief introduction of the data set (which you can peruse yourself here).

Here are the top 7 takeaways, as remembered by a millennial:

#1: Millennials Don’t Need A Label—Including “Environmentalist”

“How many of you identify as an environmentalist because, ‘no shit’?” Hanna asked the crowd. Hands shot up. “Right. What else would you be?”

“You can call me an environmentalist, but I don’t need your labels,” Holly said. “I don’t want to support the meat industry. Does that make me a vegetarian? If you want to give me that label, fine. I don’t need that label. I don’t need to call myself that to want to make the changes that I want to see.”

To a large extent, “environmentalism” is a way of life of life in the Pacific Northwest, and it seems unnecessary to adopt the label—especially because we see environmentalism as intersectional with so many other issues and integral to many internalized values.

Holly Beal Photo: Hannah Letinich

#2: Millennial “Environmentalism” is Intersectional

The heavy lifting of “environmentalism”—banning agricultural use of DDT, creating the EPA, the first Earth Day, the back-to-the-land movement—took place before any millennial was born. Now the label “environmentalism” is being attached to so many other things and being monetized, which rubs many millennials the wrong way.

“You don’t need to be an environmentalist to say that it’s a shame that Flint, Michigan hasn’t had clean water for over 1,000 days,” Shaun said. In that way, social justice and environmental justice could easily be placed under the “environmentalist” banner, but millennials can see it as unnecessary to do so. For many of us, sustainability is as much anti-racist as it is environmentalist.

Leda sees environmentalist values as simply part of who we are. “Affordable housing, transit, or the right to feel safe in your home—that ICE agents aren’t going to separate you from your family—these are all issues that don’t seem like environmental issues on their face, but these are all things that make you secure, ensure that you’re able to live a comfortable life, and be part of this sustainable region. Seeing environmentalism as something that is broader is more to our benefit.”

Hanna interjected, “It’s hard to be an environmentalist when mostly what I am is a person who can’t pay my rent.”

Shaun Scott and Leda Chahim Photo: Hannah Letinich

#3: Low Wages Are a Hidden Key to the Affordability Equation

Housing affordability is the top concern of local millennials, according to our survey.

“The dirty secret behind the millennial condition as far as housing is concerned is really low wages,” Shaun asserted. According to a recent Business Insider Report, Washington State millennial wages hover around $24,000 per year. “Do we appeal to the 1% or be more representative of the whole generation? Utopia for the millennial 1% is not going to get us any further than what we’ve been doing for the last 35 years,” he added.

#4: They Wonder If Cities Are Being Built For People Like Them

Despite affordability ranking as local millennials’ top concern, the survey revealed that many millennials think growth is moving too quickly, and housing construction should slow down. That skepticism is borne from the observation that what’s being built isn’t for the majority of us. Leda framed the problem, “Is that building for me? Is it something that will serve my community? Right now, it’s a lot of luxury townhouses; that does not serve the vast majority of us.“

Holly lingered on a contradiction: Many millennials don’t want higher rents, but also don’t think we should build more housing. “That doesn’t really work out so well,” her voice trailing off and her hands held up in a comical shrug.

That contradiction is underpinned by the reality that the vast majority of the housing they see being built is not family-sized housing. It’s studios and 1-bedrooms because you can charge more for them per square foot—a fact not lost on millennials.

Photo: Hannah Letinich

#5: Greenwashing Is More Prevalent and Dangerous Than Ever.

Millennials view environmentalism as attached to consumerism, perhaps fatally so. Nowadays, consumerism is the easiest way to express your greenness. “Buy this product to be less bad? Consume more to be less bad? That feels weird,” Holly says.

#6: Millennials Want To Solve Root Problems, Not Blame Individuals

Holly recently moved from Atlanta to work at Microsoft because she was attracted to Washington’s natural beauty and outdoor recreation opportunities. She didn’t know about the tension around transplants before moving to Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, but she quickly felt them, noting that she and her friends who work at Microsoft and Amazon often feel unwelcome. She wondered, though, “I move in and can afford to live in places other people can’t but what am I supposed to do, then? I love it. Do I leave? Tell people don’t come?”

Shaun countered with historical perspective: “Seattle has a pretty long history of telling all kinds of people that they can’t and shouldn’t live here, including the people who were here before anybody else. Millennials bear the burden of being the representatives of problems that society couldn’t solve before that group ever got there.”

Hanna agreed, “[Holly] is not the root of the problem. Stay involved. Show up to city council meetings. Write letters and make phone calls to your legislators. A majority of millennials won’t be in power until 2050, so we can either wait until then to get what we want, or we can get involved and make it happen.”

Photo: Hannah Letinich

#7: Love of Place Connects Us All. At Any Age.

Tuesday’s conversation was about how to create a sustainable city. Right now, Seattle is one of the “it” cities. More conversations like this are needed about what it means to be truly be inclusive and affordable if we are to capitalize on this opportunity to create a sustaining city. As we have challenging conversations about how we make a livable city, it all comes from a love of this place, no matter the generation.