Former Santa Clara County principal planner Don Weden told members of SILVAR’s Cupertino/Sunnyvale District this week that California is experiencing a number of structural changes and will be facing bigger challenges than in the past due to population growth, household changes, and an aging population.

The California Department of Finance projects Santa Clara County’s current population of 1.8 million will grow by 140,000 people in 15 years. As population grows, so will households, but their makeup will change.

“The future looks gray,” said Weden.

Currently in Santa Clara County, one in 10 persons is age 65 and older. By 2030, one in five persons or one-fourth of the adult population will be over 65.

Weden said development plans anchored on the drivable suburban model are no longer suitable. One in five Americans over 65 do not drive – because of rising gas prices, because they can’t, and some prefer not to.

“Neighborhoods we thought were fun to grow up in may be problematic to grow old in,” said Weden.

Weden indicated the rate of home ownership among the 25-34 year old group has dropped from 40 percent in 2007 to 31 percent in 2010. Millennials, the generation born between 1980 and 2000, now number 80 million, more than the baby boomers, and projected to soon comprise majority of the U.S. workforce. This generation has never known the world without the Internet. Weden said Millennials are the most educated generation in history, but also saddled with much student debt. They are mostly renters not only due to economic necessity, but because they want to be mobile, free to move from job to job without having to worry about selling their home every time they move.

“They are also less confident in the economics of the American dream,” said Weden.

Also important is this generation does not like driving. Eighty-eight percent want to live in an urban setting that is walkable. This is why it is critical for cities to focus on planning walkable urban neighborhoods instead of drivable suburban communities, said Weden. Baby boomers would also prefer it, especially once they can no longer drive.

Weden said the evolution from the predominantly drivable suburban neighborhoods to walkable urban neighborhoods is gradually taking place in Bay Area cities. He said REALTORS® need to get involved in planning these neighborhoods. The neighborhoods need not be exotic, but should be complete, offering residents of all ages an active lifestyle, with services and shops, including grocery stores and other amenities.