GLENWOOD SPRINGS - Smaller houses and denser neighborhoods, a concept mostly confined to conversations between land planners and public policy makers in the past, is finding its way into the real estate market following the recession.Walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods and main street-style shopping areas, even in small towns and redeveloping suburban communities, are more attractive to a large segment of homebuyers.Especially younger people in their 20s and 30s are rejecting the suburban style of living preferred by their parents, according to presenters at the Sonoran Institute's Community Builders 2012 summit held Thursday and Friday at the Hotel Colorado in Glenwood."Generation Y is our economic future," said Andy Knudtsen, of Denver-based Economic & Planning Systems, of the generational term coined for those born in the late 1970s and early 1980s."Anything we can do to facilitate bringing Generation Y into our communities will be a benefit," Knudtsen advised the room full of public and private planners, elected officials and business leaders.He pointed to a western Colorado housing market survey his company and the Sonoran Institute have been working on, in which the following comment was offered by someone in that important age group:"My home is where I sleep; my community is where I live."That sentiment defines a new generation of consumers who, especially in the Rocky Mountain West, are active, spend a lot of time outdoors and in social gatherings, and tend to prefer smaller, less expensive places to live, emphasized Knudtsen and others at the summit.The two-day summit focused on "the business of creating better communities," by exploring new approaches to development, especially urban and suburban renewal projects."A lot of what we're learning now really turns on its head some of our conventional thinking about development," said Clark Anderson, Western Colorado program director for the Sonoran Institute.The Sonoran Institute has a regional office in Glenwood Springs, but focuses on helping communities throughout the Rocky Mountain West achieve community development and resource management goals.Adam Ducker, managing director of the real estate consultants Robert Charles Lesser & Co., said the recession that came in 2008 after several years of unprecedented real estate market growth provided an opportunity for communities to rethink how they wanted to develop going forward."As I like to say, a recession is a terrible thing to waste," Ducker said.Communities in western Colorado are poised to embrace the new market trends that can support redevelopment of some of the older, suburban types of development that may have out-lived their time, Ducker said."We are seeing an emerging desire for high-density in suburban areas," he said of an "urban renewal" approach to development that used to be more focused on inner-city areas.Part of that is a result of the new demographic of those entering the real estate market, including younger land-use planners and developers who have embraced that model.He noted that the preferred home size in the United States has shrunk from around 2,800 square feet in 1994 to less than 2,000 square feet today."Younger people like 'urban light,' and more pedestrian orientation," Ducker said. "Walkability is the most important community feature to Generation Y."It is changing the way we think, and it's something that you will want to embrace as well," he said."I'm that Generation Y guy," said 30-something Jed Selby, president of the South Main Development in Buena Vista, who also spoke at the Friday summit.The mixed-use development situated on a formerly vacant piece of land along a popular stretch of the Arkansas River for whitewater enthusiasts is one example of attempting to cater to the younger, more active buyer and investor, Selby said.The Friday summit also included a housing market panel discussion between Selby, Knudtsen, Ducker and Glenwood Springs real estate developer Todd Leahy, who also sits on city council. Afternoon sessions focused on renewing existing downtown areas and different economic development strategies.
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