...for "Work. Live. Play. WESTCHESTER!," a civic-minded conversation geared around how to transform Westchester's cities and towns into havens for young professionals. For years, many young professionals opt to live in other parts of the county (think Brooklyn, Charlotte, and Austin) where housing and lifestyle options are more aligned with their needs.
"For a community to grow, we need to attract young professionals, otherwise communities can die on the vine," says Greenburgh Planning Board member Walter SImon who attended the event and whose town is embarking on a new Master Plan.
But many young professionals who want to live in Westchester, can't. "Affordability is the main issue and right now, Westchester is unaffordable for many young professionals," says Kevin McCarthy, a commercial real estate broker with CBRE and founding member of Westchester County Association's Young Professionals Group. "Young professionals we've surveyed say they're willing to pay between $1,500 to $2,800 per month in rent here," he adds. McCarthy also notes that the price of rent is often split between spouses or domestic partners with two careers or singles with roommates.
Safe, walkable communities are what young people desire, according to Meg Walker, vice president of New York-based Project for Public Spaces, the non-profit that plans and activates public spaces globally. "What attracts people to spaces are other people," says Walker who has been working with the Westchester County Association's Blueprint for Westchester initiative and Young Professionals Group to help re-imagine and transform Westchester County.
An audible gasp could be heard in the large room as Rob Lane of the Regional Planning Agency showed pictures of the current Port Chester train station, a building on Corporate Park Drive, and a rundown industrial property in White Plains, and then unveiled what they could be with some light development and placemaking.
Marissa Brett, executive director, Economic Development for the Westchester County Association who heads The Blueprint for Westchester initiative reminded the dozens of municipal officials in attendance that change will come through their leadership. "Zoning changes and repurposing existing real estate assets is how we're going to convert Westchester into a place where young professionals can work, live, and play. It's critical for economic development," says Brett.
But, we're not starting from zero says Meg Walker, citing Westchester's many great assets from The Paramount and Caramoor to the north to the beaches on the Sound Shore to our rail lines and jazz on the Yonkers waterfront. "The problem is that the activities are not clustered and are not geographically close. Each place is about a 30 minute drive in between."
The Westchester County Association in conjunction with its Blueprint for Westchester and its Young Professionals Group will be meeting with public officials to start the process of creating great places to attract young professionals and a younger workforce.