Wisconsin is Getting Grayer and Greener: Are We Ready for It?

Capital garden
Photograph provided by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin

Wisconsin’s population will be a lot grayer in the years to come, and that will probably mean greener landscapes. According to state demographers, Wisconsin will have modest growth over the next two decades, adding about 800,000 more people. However, almost all of that growth will be in people who are over 65. And that will have a profound impact on the state’s landscape.

The number of people under the age of 65 in 20 years will be nearly the same as today. That means that the demand for new homes for new families won’t be growing. That also means that we won’t be seeing a lot of new development on the edges of cities because there is already enough housing to meet future demand for new families. It’s good news in the war against wasteful sprawl. Also good news for natural landscapes, farms, and rural areas that would like to stay rural. But what about those older people? Trends show that they will want smaller houses and apartments that are closer to shopping, doctor’s offices, government services, and the like. As they drive less, they will need more transportation options. In other words, they will be looking for communities that have compact, mixed-use development with good pedestrian opportunities, safe streets, and destinations within easy reach by foot or transit.

But it won’t be all gray. Young people are also looking for more diverse and interesting places to live. They want to be closer to work and most don’t want a big house with all of the upkeep. All of this is reflected in real estate trends. Property near the center of cities is increasing in value, while large suburban lots have seen steep declines in prices. After 50 years of decline, cities are cool again, and communities need to start preparing for changing demographics.

1000 Friends of Wisconsin is working with communities across the state to help them recognize and achieve their potential for this new urban growth. Our Green Tier Legacy Communities program is designed to help participants meet the needs of a prosperous, healthy community while having to cope with less funding for operations. Our Great Neighborhoods program provides an innovative approach to creating safe, more walkable communities. Our transportation initiatives are aimed at stopping wasteful, unneeded highway expansion and allocating more funds for local transportation needs, like filling potholes and improving transit and pedestrian/biking opportunities.

We rely on our members to keep in touch with their community leaders and their elected state officials to hold them to the task of helping Wisconsin meet the needs of a changing population—a state that is focused on building healthy communities that attract good jobs, meet the needs of a changing population, and are affordable for all.

Deb Nemeth is the executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Photographs provided by 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

View additional photographs at homeelementsandconcepts.com .

1000 Friends of Wisconsin
16 N. Carroll Street #800
Madison, WI 53703