Can Wichita become the next hot, happening place?

A pedestrian walks beneath the train overpass over Douglas in 2013.
A pedestrian walks beneath the train overpass over Douglas in 2013. File photo

Wichita could be one of the hot places of the future. At least that’s what Brad Segal says.

Segal, president of Progressive Urban Management Associates of Denver, was in Wichita this week to talk to civic leaders about the social, cultural and demographic trends driving the redevelopment of downtowns.

Lively downtowns are a key amenity to attracting people to cities, particularly millennials – those ages 20 to 35 – who are needed to build young businesses and drive growth. The good news, Segal said, is that the renovations of downtowns across America are speeding up because millennials as a group are more interested than older generations in living, eating, shopping and working in renovated urban areas.

In particular, he said, Wichita could benefit from the increasing appeal of second- and third-tier cities like itself.

Millennials are just starting out and are often put off by the high costs and dense traffic of the bigger cities. They want a place that is more livable yet has the amenities they seek.

“So if we want a skilled labor pool to fuel our companies, we have to be communities that are providing all sorts of things and are welcoming,” Segal said.

The country is growing more diverse and will no longer have a majority white population by 2040. Even so, he said, smaller cities in more conservative and often religious regions have plenty of appeal to such a diverse generation.

First, he said, there are 75 million millennials and Wichita’s values match up with many of them. But, he noted, Wichita is big enough for differences of opinion.

“There are clusters of different populations in this town,” he said. “It’s a matter of how do we invite whoever’s already here into this discussion and how do we project out that we already have a fair amount of diversity.”

In other trends, Segal said:

▪ Millennials are more connected and not as materialistic as baby boomers or Gen Xers.

▪ That has some big implications: a shift to more rental housing, with smaller space and less stuff because they live bigger online.

▪ Millennials are less interested in driving.

▪ The next generation, Gen Z, up to 20 years old, is also urban-oriented but tends to be more cautious and materialistic than millennials because they have seen of the struggles of their parents over the last 15 years. They tend to be more entrepreneurial and are less likely to attend college than millennials.