Laura Bliss is a staff writer at CityLab, covering transportation, infrastructure, and the environment. She also authors MapLab, a biweekly newsletter about maps that reveal and shape urban spaces (subscribe here). Her work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, Los Angeles, GOOD, L.A. Review of Books, and beyond.
The city’s treasurer says young people seeking a light-rail “freebie” should look elsewhere.
Already home to 1.7 million, Hampton Roads is among the fastest growing metro regions in the country. Virginia Beach, the largest in the cluster of coastal cities between Virginia and North Carolina, boasts one of the country’s highest shares of people aged 18-35.
No wonder local officials are trying to boot up a more robust regional transit system in order to support and hang on to the economic benefits of a young population.
But to use the vernacular of said demographic, does Virginia Beach City Treasurer John Atkinson GAF? Nope, not a one. He’s leading efforts to kill the city’s plans to extend an existing light-rail line from neighboring Norfolk into Virginia Beach—a plan voters overwhelmingly supported in a 2012 referendum. While most of the country’s local leaders clamor to attract well-educated youths, who favor transit and walkability more than others, Atkinson doesn’t mince words about why those freeloading snake-people don’t belong. According to the Virginian-Pilot:
[Atkinson] said millennials who want public transportation and dense living aren’t a good fit for Virginia Beach and should move to Norfolk. He said the city is not set up for dense development and widely used public transportation, and it shouldn’t build an expensive project to cater to millennials.
Atkinson, who has been treasurer since 1978, said the Beach is better poised to attract people that want good schools, recreation, and the ocean.
“The populations are different,” Atkinson said. “The city of Virginia Beach offers something to those willing to pay for it.
“Those that want a freebie (of subsidized public transportation) can move to Norfolk.”
Nothing like a little light-rail to flare up intergenerational stereotypes! Better to protect Virginia Beach and its traditional family values, which include spending a healthy 40 hours per year sitting in traffic.
In all seriousness, Atkinson’s resistance (which he has previously based in concerns about cost overruns) may have a real effect on the region’s light-rail future. He and a city councilmember are both fighting to hold another referendum on the extension—efforts that have caused the state to threaten to withdraw the $155 million it has already contributed to the project. Referendum or no, the Virginia Beach City Council now has a deadline of April 30 to submit a memorandum of understanding to the Commonwealth Transportation Board if they want to keep the cash, and the project, coming.
Reached for comment, Millennials rolled their eyes and started Craigslisting for apartments in Denver.