Wicked Local – Smaller housing would attract younger population to Eastons – 3/6/14

By Susan Parkou Weinstein, sweinstein@wiuckedlocal.com

The town will age and both its population and households will shrink over the next two decades if current trends continue.

That’s not destiny but it’s a likely scenario and Easton had better prepare for it with housing, social services and transportation for an older population, Barry Bluestone, founder of the Kitty and Michael Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy at Northeastern University, told selectmen last month.

“I drove here. Fifteen years from now, you do not want me driving on Elm Street,” said the 69-year old Bluestone. “You’ve got to start planning for that now.”

Bluestone appeared before the board to discuss economic development and housing and after reviewing the results of Easton’s Economic Development Self-Assessment Tool. The survey rated the town’s strengths and weaknesses in its efforts to attract new business investment and jobs.

But the first part of his presentation focused on how to handle Easton’s sluggish population growth.

At only 3 percent, the town already has had the lowest rate of growth in Bristol County over the last 10 years.

The Metropolitan Area Planning Council said the population of Easton might actually stop growing over the next 15 years and even decline, Bluestone said.

According to the 2010 census, Easton has 7,865 households and 5,732 families, including 2,700 with children. But there are also 1,758 non-family households and 1,700 residents who live alone.

By 2030, the town will need more but smaller housing units for the same number of people as the population ages and families have fewer children.

Bluestone said Easton is losing the 19-year-old and younger population, not attracting the 25- to 34-year-olds and baby boomers are reaching 65 at the rate of 10,000 a day nationwide.

“By 2030, nearly 25 percent of Easton will be 65,” he said.

This changing demographic will result in a greater demand for smaller housing units than for the current sprawl of four-bedroom subdivision homes.

“If I’ve lived most of my life here in Easton and I want to stay here and now I’m in my 60s and 70s and 80s, and I’ve been living in a single-family house and mowing the lawn, can I stay in this town or do I have to look somewhere else?” Bluestone asked. “Is there housing here for me?”

Worsening the problem for suburban communities like Easton is the fact young people don’t like to commute to work, he said. They prefer to ride their bicycles, live in city centers or use public transportation. With mounting college debt, they also can’t afford Easton’s huge homes and may not need them as young couples have fewer children.

Analyzing the EDSAT study, Bluestone said the town could promote growth by marketing the town as a place to do business.

Among the town’s greatest assets, he said, are its available parking, commercial spaces, low traffic and crime rates, good schools and a skilled and educated labor force.

The town is also rich in history and open space.

“Deal breakers” include minimal public sewer service, a slow appeals process, the lack of public transit and a shortage of affordable housing.

The town needs to partner with area chambers of commerce and create an economic growth strategy, he said.

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