Overview of the Presentation by Mitch Silver, President of the American Planning Association

Presentation Title: “What you need to know about demographics in the 21st century”

“When you say ‘no’ to something, you are saying ‘yes’ to something else. What are you saying ‘yes’ to?”

This question was posed by Mitch Silver, the President of the American Planning Association, on November 22, 2011, during his presentation which was titled “What You Need to Know About Demographics in the 21st Century.” This presentation was a part of the Chapel Hill 2020 comprehensive planning process and was held at the Chapel Hill Town Hall.

During his presentation, Silver focused on the issue of future demographic change within the United States and specifically within North Carolina. Changes such as an aging population, within the traditional household, a more ethnically diverse population, and a changing labor force will have major impacts upon communities. The Chapel Hill 2020 planning and visioning documents that are currently being created will need to reflect and anticipate these changes in order for Chapel Hill to be a flexible and dynamic community for people to live, work, play, and invest.

Understanding Changing Demographics


Between 2000 and 2030, the South will become the destination of choice; therefore, a no-growth policy is not an option for many Southern communities, especially for communities located in metropolitan areas. North Carolina is a reflection of these growth projections, as the state has seen rapid growth and recently passed New Jersey as the 11th largest state. By 2030, North Carolina is projected to be the 7th largest state.

Aging Population

Another major trend for American cities is the increasing number of older residents, which is referred to as the “graying” of America. By 2030, one in five Americans will be over the age of 65; this will have important implications for current transportation systems as well as land use and the placement of homes, businesses, and stores. Currently, most Americans travel by their personal cars, but as a large portion of the population grows older, this will no longer be an option for most. Older people will have difficulty getting around, especially if the transportation systems, including bus systems and pedestrian amenities such as sidewalks, do not provide adequate or comprehensive options.

The aging of the population will also have an effect upon communities’ tax bases. As people age, they will be looking to minimize their bills, and they may seek property tax relief or tax deferral. North Carolina offers the Homestead Exemption which exempts low-income elderly and disabled homeowners from a portion of their property taxes. This decrease in property taxes could have a major impact upon the tax base that communities use to pay for their operations and services.    

Changes in the “Traditional Household”

Traditional households are also projected to change as the number of single-family households is projected to increase and the number of “traditional families” is projected to decrease. The number of young people between the ages of 25 to 34 who are getting married is below 50%, and the desire within this age group to get married has been decreasing.

There has also been an increase in “boomerang students” who go to school and then return to their parents’ homes because they are not able to find jobs. Some household sizes have been increasing due to the “boomerang students” and the high healthcare costs which lead to older parents moving into their children’s homes.

Demographic Remix

Silver stated that the United States will have a demographic “remix” during the 21st century due to a major change in the United States’ racial composition. By 2042, there will no longer be a majority race in the United States. The Hispanic population is projected to triple from 2008 to 2050, due to the birth of children. This “browning” of America will lead to more diverse neighborhoods and schools and may lead to a “clash of cultures” that could result in many positive outcomes for the nation.

Changing Labor Force

Another consideration for the future will be the changing labor force. African-American and Hispanic populations are projected have the highest growth rates, but the education attainment for these populations is the lowest. Silver warned that we are not true Americans and that we will not be properly investing in our future if we do not educate all populations in our nation. He also stated that the work force will begin shrinking due to the retirement of the baby boomers, and considerations must be given to reducing the effects of this change. One option could be reversing the immigration policy and allowing people from other countries to immigrate to the United States.

Generational Impacts

Silver also discussed each generation, from the greatest generation, the silent/chosen generation, and the baby boomer generation, as well as the Gen X, Y, and Z generations and their characteristics. He stressed the importance of engaging each generation in planning efforts, especially the younger generations of Gen Y and Gen Z. He also encouraged communities to recognize the boom and bust population cycles and to anticipate how this will impact their labor forces and their resources.


In conclusion, Silver stated that during the Chapel Hill 2020 process, the Chapel Hill community must consider these future demographic changes and create a visioning and planning document that anticipates and plans for these changes. Silver said that the communities must be smart about how they use their land and consider the trade-offs that certain development may offer. For example, dense, urban development has a better annual tax yield than suburban development; therefore, when communities say “no” to dense development, then they are saying “yes” to higher taxes.

 Communities should also keep in mind that smaller homes and renting, versus owning, will become the preference as household sizes become smaller and people want to live closer to downtown. Also, mixed-use development, which have a combination of homes, offices, restaurants, retail, and other amenities, are appreciating in value while single-family homes are depreciating in value.  Communities must keep these trends in mind when considering the approval and placement of new development.  

He also stressed the importance of understanding that when people say “no” to development and when the public encourages their towns to take “no action” this can have consequences as well. Saying “no” means that a community is saying “yes” to something else, and Chapel Hill should carefully and creatively consider what the community would like to embrace and exclaim “yes!” 

Click here! For a pdf version of this post (Overview of Mitch Silver’s presentation)



2 thoughts on “Overview of the Presentation by Mitch Silver, President of the American Planning Association

  1. Pingback: These population demographics may surprise you…. « Triangle ArtWorks

  2. I think one of the most important points that Mr. Silver made was that to reach different populations, you have to use different engagement tools. I hope that the town follows this advice and does some good outreach beyond traditional meetings!

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