Walkability and sense of place in the surburbs

By: Bob Monnat, partner & COO of Mandel Group, Inc.

Despite perceptions, there continues to be a tremendous amount of growth in the suburban housing markets. While the downtown areas of large cities have seen dramatic additions to housing supply, there is robust activity in the suburbs, particularly in terms of new multifamily housing.

A study done by the Waukesha County Center for Growth revealed that there are 1,000 new market-rate apartments under construction in Waukesha County today, with 2,500 already having come online since 2014. These numbers only include apartment developments created with a “sense of place,” meaning that they are incorporated into a mixed-use setting, display walkable characteristics, associate with a community’s downtown area and/or enjoy greater accessibility due to their infill nature. These results mirror major metropolitan areas around the country.

These suburban communities have historically been characterized by single-family housing but statistically, the number of new apartments in suburban settings out-distances those developed in urbanized areas. This is not readily apparent due to how spread out projects are throughout the area. Newly delivered apartments in Waukesha County are located in communities from Brookfield to Oconomowoc, from Muskego to Menomonee Falls.

We are investing heavily in walkable settings in mature suburban communities. We have been successful in attracting older individuals who want to stay in the community where they raised their families and can maintain many of their social ties, yet at the same time shed the responsibilities of home ownership.

There is also a healthy demand for apartments from millennials looking to locate in the suburbs. With a large percentage of millennials having been raised in suburban households, it is natural for them to want to return to a familiar setting. Additional considerations for millennials are the cost of housing and proximity to work, factors that can be positively addressed at many suburban locations.

The Corners of Brookfield is a great example of the breadth of the suburban apartment market. Having recently exceeded 70 percent leasing of the property’s 244 apartments, we have attracted a near-even mix of millennials and older residents. In both cases, residents cite the convenience of having many destinations a short walk away. The property’s convenient freeway access makes it easy to commute to work and entertainment destinations throughout the metro area.

We expect to see continued growth in the number of apartments in the coming years. The combined preferences of an aging baby-boomer generation coupled with the lifestyle choices of millennials will fuel increased investment in quality apartment design and construction and ever-more impressive amenities and conveniences. We see the clear preference for suburban apartment communities that creatively merge into existing communities, create walkable neighborhood options and result in a “sense of place” that is stimulating and desirable for our future residents.

This article was originally published in the Waukesha County Business Alliance’s June 2018 Accelerate Waukesha County magazine.