The Magical 21-35 Demographic

By Michelle Martin
Published November 04, 2010

What with all this talk about the magic of the 21-35 demographic (as RTH commenter Undustrial put it, "Just talk about hipsters and everyone takes you seriously"), I'm starting to feel terribly middle-aged. Maybe it's time to start organizing with the rest of my cohort, and demanding spaces in the city that meet our unique needs.

The first time I felt middle-aged, I was 21 years old. Stephen and I hadn't been dating very long, and we went out for the evening with a good friend of his and his relatively new girlfriend. After a lovely dinner in a restaurant that Stephen and his friend should not have been able to afford on a student budget, we all went up to this fellow's residence room for a drink, which is when I decided that my boyfriend's friend was terrific fun.

He poured us all drinks from his fully stocked liquor cabinet. I recall sipping on a B&B, and I think the guys might have had scotch. We looked through his coffee-table book collection (beautiful collections of art, architecture and travel), while the soundtrack from The Sound of Music played in the background - because he liked it, and to hell with anyone who didn't, really.

Forward 25 years. We've been married almost that long, and Stephen's friend and his girlfriend said their vows as well. Here in comfortable mid-life, we still hear The Sound of Music plenty, since it's one of our children's favourite movies (though I confess that some days, it's just a little too much), and one of our daughters played Maria in a high school production.

We get together with our old friends fairly often, since their daughter is great friends with our son and daughter who are close to her age. I mentioned that bottle of B&B last time they visited, and they said that the B&B that is in their liquor cabinet now is likely the very same one from which I partook back in the day.

While they were in our living room, laughing over old and new times, I didn't feel middle-aged. I felt 21. Does feeling 21 count for the purposes of the stadium debate? Or is that too young?

Michelle Martin lives in Hamilton. The opinions she expresses in Raise the Hammer are her own.


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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted November 04, 2010 at 22:39:21

Well, I hear ya on the part about feeling old.

As for the stadium debate, I'm not sure that the allegation is that people in the 21-35 age bracket should be the only ones involved in the debate. In fact, I'm not sure that I've heard much about actually ASKING any of us. Just the same old objectifications about young people, this time being used to promote a stadium. Doesn't change the fact that most of the decision-making-power is still held by wealthy men in their fifties.

There's nothing new about the idea of trying to capitalize on the hip, sexy appeal of youthful creativity. But I'd be more convinced if I knew one person in this age bracket who actually thought this way. Making superficial observations about creative people accomplishes nothing when you miss entirely the messages they're trying to convey. A Football stadium to placate restless twenty-somethings? I think I speak for my age bracket when I say "what is this, the 1950s?"

Comment edited by Undustrial on 2010-11-04 21:39:53

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By mrjanitor (registered) | Posted November 04, 2010 at 22:59:26

I think the idea is to create an exciting and vibrant area (usually a downtown) to entice the 21-35 year olds to stick around, and then get old and trapped like the rest of us! Professor Rosentraub only said that if done right, sports teams (and therefor facilities) are part of that puzzle. I think saying, "A Football stadium to placate restless twenty-somethings?" really over simplifies his theory, however funny your point is!

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By s_martin (registered) | Posted November 05, 2010 at 08:40:13

In fact, I'm not sure that I've heard much about actually ASKING any of us. Just the same old objectifications about young people, this time being used to promote a stadium.

Indeed. My point was that you can't predict how any given 21 year old will prefer to spend an evening.

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted November 07, 2010 at 16:39:03

To answer the question, I think 21 year olds who grow up in Hamilton are looking for the first ticket to Toronto. And I'm pretty sure the Toronto Argonauts and the Roger's centre are not at the top of the list of reasons.

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By Kiely (registered) | Posted November 09, 2010 at 13:11:55

Just talk about hipsters and everyone takes you seriously - Undustrial

Ya, I have a chicken or egg dilemma with Mr. Florida and his "creative" class. Are creative 21-35 year olds really economic catalysts or do cities with well run economies attract the "creative" class? I have a hard time with some of the connections Mr. Florida leaps to make. A city's economy, creativity, wealth and artists have been linked for millennia (i.e., where there has been excess wealth and those willing to spend it on status, artists have thrived). I think Mr. Florida's take is just a little too simple.

His message is appealing to a lot of people though, I'll give him that and it is a positive one and that does count for something.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2010 at 08:57:31

The hipsters I knew when I lived in Toronto started businesses of a ton of different types that are still going five-seven years later, lived in spaces no one else would, tirelessly put on event after event, and contributed a ton of energy, productivity, creativity, beauty and product on their own steam - very entrepeneurial. And some of them are now settling down, buying lofts, having babies - in the same city.

Looks like a lot of the same is happening in Hamilton, but our environment makes it way harder - one is that there are less consumers for their products, but it's also harder to do some of the startup things and take the same type of risks, with less people overall to work with. On the other side, space is cheaper, both to live and to work, but our amenities just aren't as attractive, and it's hard to stay the course and settle into this city without the same amenities.

Not that any other demographic is less magical, but there's an incredible amount to be gained from these people - in free time, in creativity, in flexible hours. Age alone doesn't make for it (we do terribly at harnessing the creativity of the 16-21 demographic, and a cutoff of 35 is also pretty ridiculous) but there's just life-stage positional advantages there.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2010 at 13:40:52

On the other side, space is cheaper, both to live and to work, but our amenities just aren't as attractive, and it's hard to stay the course and settle into this city without the same amenities.

Yes. The housing is definitely cheaper, and the advantages of city life are here. But I agree with you that we should be paying attention to a younger demographic- even younger than the 16-21 group. Hamilton amenities just aren't as available for kids as they get older and gradually increase in independence. Here's a small example: in Toronto, many neighbourhoods had free, outdoor skating rinks. There was one we could walk to in New Toronto, and places around the corner to grab a hot chocolate afterward. In Hamilton, for a fourteen year old to go for a skate and a bite to eat with his or her friends, he or she typically has to be driven to an indoor arena, and there aren't a lot of options for time since most of the ice time is given over to hockey games and practices (if you can't afford to put your kids in ice hockey, you're out of luck). I really think that if you remember having nothing to do (or nothing that you could arrange for and get to yourself) when you were 14-16 years of age, then you won't be inclined to stay in your hometown when you are old enough to strike out on your own.

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted November 10, 2010 at 15:56:08

Definitely - very well said.

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By Mogadon Megalodon (anonymous) | Posted November 12, 2010 at 16:51:57

I think the "magic demographic" is defined in this way because it's seems like it'd be the post- post-secondary salad years. If you've exited the academic track by that point you're most likely to still have a bellyful of fire, a headful of ideals and boundless idealism. People are perhaps willing to take huge risks at that point, and less likely to care about convention. By their mid-30s, the picture has changed – maybe financial pressures, maybe obligations at home (spouse, family), but domesticity and conservative outlook tends to become more normative and free time/flexible hours less so.

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