u201cBigger is not better,u201d said panelists at the Demographic Trend panel at ULI's Spring conference.

VANCOUVER, B.C.—On day two of the ULI Spring conference event here in Vancouver, one of the morning’s concurrent panels discussed which demographic trends have successfully informed and increased the value of the panelist’s business strategies. According to panelist Matt Griffin, managing partner, Pine Street Group LLC, “walkability and access to mass transit is everything.”

To panelist Jon Stovel, president, Reliance Properties, key trends for the Gen Y crowd are micro lofts and incubator offices. “There is a double demand on urbanism. Baby boomers are seeking to preserve capital by going back into the urban core,” he said. “The Gen Y people haven’t got their parent’s money yet and they have to live with less and they are making interesting decisions on how to stay in the city as well.”

One of the biggest problems in Vancouver, he said, is “meeting the affordability expectations of both those groups.”

And the demands are rippling through both the work place and the living space. “We have an incubator office building in downtown Vancouver where we get the kids coming out of the basement with their new businesses who carve out a space downtown and the reason it works is because a lot of these economies are virtualized, but they are able to run their own little business out of one space and commune in the café’s when they want to have meetings,” he said.

Transit is another huge part of the decision to be downtown, Stovel added. “Meeting the style expectations of those medium-sized tech and artichitecture tenants and putting them right near transit is key.”

Micro lofts in a rich urban center “that has lots of services outside the doors” is another trend we are seeing more of these days, Stovel explained. “These lofts are totally budget driven, have no parking and are around 250 square feet.”

The cohort interested in this space, Stovel said, is 20 to 32 years old. “The nature of the micro loft is catching on… And we built storage space, but they don’t use it.”

To understand the details of the emerging demand, Stovel explained that one of the micro loft projects his firm had was rented out through Craigslist at $4 per square foot with no marketing budget and there was still a waiting list. “You have a 300-square-foot condo, but the city is where you live.”

Even with the demand, there are still issues and hurdles to get over. If you are catering to the “family phase of your life” it might not be the best spot, Stovel said. And in cities like Vancouver, for example, there is anxiety from the city on a planning level.

“The key to getting past the planning issue is getting them to understand the livability of the suites themselves, the amount of amenities in the building, and putting the micro lofts in places where the urban realm outside the building is rich and abundant.”     

Moderated by Maureen McAvey, senior resident fellow and Bucksbaum family chair for retail, Urban Land Institute, the trend is really all about having a sharing economy, community and a sense of belonging. “Meeting people and being engaged is key to this generation.”

Griffin added that location is one of the main things his company looks for. “We look to build a community and not just an apartment community.” Griffin pointed to the firm’s Via 6 project in Seattle as an example of thinking about a project in a way to create a community and “meet your neighbors.”

In our design phase, “we thought about ways people could walk though an ‘open’ ground floor, where people could go to the bike shop, get prepared foods at the market etc. On the seventh floor, we also thought about building a community.” He explains that “It isn’t about actually owning the right space, but having access to it.”

Griffin explained that they purposely put in shared grills in the community areas, “so neighbors would come together.”

The most important shared amenity is the city, added Stovel. But within the lofts themselves, the most used amenity in every project his company has done has been the gym. “Especially for this group.”

In the marketing phase, Stovel added, the outdoor space is key. But surprisingly, he added, once the tenants move in, “it isn’t used as much as you think.”

McAvey noted that three or four years ago, people said that micro units would fail and that “you couldn’t get below 600 or 800 square feet and successfully rent or sale a project.” But it is a myth, she said. “It has just not been true.”