11 Michigan cities where young adults are thriving

(Photo via Getty Images)

By Lisa Green
November 6, 2023

Affordable housing, entertainment options, and fair wages are just a few things driving the housing decisions of Gen Z. See which Michigan cities are creating the biggest draws.

MICHIGAN—The kids are alright; because these are leading a significant change for post-pandemic urban renewal in Michigan.

Generation Z, also called Gen Z or Zoomers, are generally defined as those born after 1996, meaning members of this generation are 26 or younger. The COVID-19 pandemic saw 2.7 million U.S. adults moving back home, most of which were Gen Z, to live with a parent or grandparent. A third of Zoomers still live with family.

As the country shifts into a post-COVID world, there’s plenty of reason to watch the housing trends of Gen Z. These young adults are defying the trends of their older cohorts by flocking to large cities and metropolitan areas or staying close to their college towns. According to data from RentCafe, Gen Z is driving the rental housing market, refreshing the urban revival movement as the country recovers from the pandemic.

How are these Zoomer revival trends shaping up in Michigan? We’ve analyzed data from the Census Bureau’s 2021 1-year American Community Survey to find Michigan’s Gen Z hotspots to watch.

A view down Michigan Avenue in Lansing, Michigan. (Photo via Getty Images)

Lansing and East Lansing

County: Ingham

Population: 111,833 (Lansing) and 47,427 (East Lansing)

Median Age: 34.5 (Lansing) and 21.4 (East Lansing)

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 12% (Lansing) and 27% (East Lansing)

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  21% (Lansing) and 40% (East Lansing)

The greatest number of young adults are concentrated in the home city of the Spartans, Michigan State University’s East Lansing, and the adjacent Michigan capital of Lansing. Lansing is one of Michigan’s Thriving Cities

One of the biggest draws toward Lansing and East Lansing for Gen Z is the area’s more affordable housing rates. GoBankingRates listed Lansing first on their nationwide list of Best Affordable Cities for Gen Z Renters, and Rent.com listed East Lansing third and Lansing second on its list of Cheapest Places to Live in Michigan, with an average one-bedroom rent price of $906 and $850, respectively.

Around 50,000 students attend Michigan State, and East Lansing’s population has grown by about 4.5% in the last year. Downtown is also packed with eclectic shops, restaurants, and bars.  Although the Lansing region’s economy hasn’t quite bounced back to pre-pandemic levels, the labor force has bounced back significantly in the last two years, with some of the current lowest unemployment levels in the state. Zippia listed Lansing twenty-first on their list of Best Places in Michigan to Get a Job, with 37.2% prospective future job growth.

Michigan’s capital city also has plenty to offer. Lansing features a robust entertainment, nightlife, and live music scene. Lansing is called Michigan’s festival capital, with events such as Jazz Fest, Old Town Blues Fest, Capital City Film Festival, and Capital City Comic Convention. East Lansing hosts the East Lansing Arts Festival and the East Lansing Film Festival.

Michigan Theater and State Theater in Ann Arbor. (Photo via Brad West on Unsplash)

Ann Arbor

County: Washtenaw

Population: 121,536

Median Age: 28.2

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 15%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  30%

The University of Michigan’s hometown is recognized as one of Michigan’s best cities. StudyFinds awarded Ann Arbor the title of Best Place to Live in America, and Niche.com ranked Ann Arbor the number eight Best City to Live in America. Fortune Magazine ranked it number one on a nationwide list of Best Places to Live for Families in 2022. It’s recognized as one of Michigan’s Thriving Cities. So perhaps it’s unsurprising that those in Gen Z set their roots in Tree Town.

Aside from the robust population of around 50,000 U of M students who call Ann Arbor home, there are plenty of reasons Gen Z would stick around. Ann Arbor has a diverse job market in education and healthcare, with a growing technology industry. It also has a thriving culinary scene, showcased during Ann Arbor Restaurant Week, and other culture and nightlife opportunities like the Ann Arbor Art Fair, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Top of the Park, and Hash Bash.

Other draws to the Ann Arbor area include its diversity, public transit system, park system, and low crime rates.

Eastern Michigan University. (Photo via F Delventhal, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)


County: Washtenaw

Population: 20.113

Median Age: 25.7

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 18%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  31%

Ypsilanti is more than a college town with a funny name. It’s home to Eastern Michigan University and just a stone’s throw away from Ann Arbor—often offering more affordable living. Rent.com listed Ypsilanti fourth on its list of Cheapest Places to Live in Michigan, with an average one-bedroom rent price of $922. It is also considered one of Michigan’s Thriving Cities.

Ypsilanti has a vibrant arts scene and is perhaps best known as a festival destination during warmer months. Each summer, over 100 breweries flock to Ypsilanti for the Michigan Brewer’s Guild Festival. Other cultural events include Ypsi Jazz Fest, John E. Lawrence Summer Jazz, CannaJam, Orphan Car Show, and more. 

Ypsi, as it’s locally called, also has a number of other unique attractions, including a bustling nightlife scene and a walkable downtown featuring an unofficial “Diagon Alley” metaphysical shopping district.

Ypsilanti benefits from the same public transit system and parks system that helps make Ann Arbor great.
Zippia ranked Ypsilanti eighth on its list of Best Places in Michigan to Get a Job, with a 5.4% unemployment rate and 37.4% prospective future job growth.

The Blue Bridge in Grand Rapids. (Photo via Olivia Hodges on Unsplash)

Grand Rapids

County: Kent

Population: 197,423

Median Age: 32.8

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 13%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  20%

Michigan’s second largest metropolitan area is Grand Rapids. It has a city-sized population and amenities but suburban-sized prices and safety. Not only is it one of Michigan’s Thriving Cities, but it’s also a huge college town, with 15 colleges and universities. And homeownership for young adults isn’t too far out of reach in Grand Rapids. According to Apartment List and data from the U.S. Census Bureau, Grand Rapids dominates the national charts in the number of Millennials owning homes in a metropolitan area. Gen Z isn’t too far behind.

GreatCollegeDeals rates Grand Rapids 14th on its list of Most Affordable Michigan College Towns, with a cost of living 7.3% lower than the national average and 4% lower than the state average.

The Grand Rapids economy is set to benefit young adults, especially within its automotive sector. Pheabs included Grand Rapids on its national Top 10 Cities for Young Female Professionals list. Grand Valley State University’s business college estimated that Grand Rapids’ economic growth will happen twice as fast as the rest of the country. The Grand Rapids-Wyoming Metropolitan area is the only reported Michigan metropolitan area to exceed its level of pre-pandemic jobs. 

Speaking of, the nearby city of Wyoming ranked second on Zippia’s list of Best Places in Michigan to Get a Job, with a 5.1% unemployment rate and 44.8% prospective future job growth.

Culture is big in Grand Rapids. It features over 100 live music venues with a thriving local music scene and nightlife. Other cultural institutions include the Grand Rapids Art Museum, the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts, Grand Rapids Public Museum, Grand Rapids African American Museum & Archives, and more. Grand Rapids is known as Beer City, USA, with the second-highest number of breweries per capita in Michigan.

Downtown Kalamazoo. (Public domain photo)


County: Kalamazoo

Population: 73,257

Median Age: 25.8

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 15%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  30%

One of the most essential values to Gen Z workers is fair pay. Kalamazoo is an ideal place for a Gen Z worker, then—according to AutoInsurance.org, the Kalamazoo-Portage metropolitan area ranks seventh nationally among midsize metro areas for the highest adjusted median earnings for young adult workers. Additionally, Apartment information blog RentCafe ranked Kalamazoo 16th on its national list of Top 20 Cities for Gen Z Renters in 2022, the only Michigan city ranked on the list. Kalamazoo is one of Michigan’s Thriving Cities for these reasons and more.

Kalamazoo’s economy is a force to be reckoned with. Zippia ranked Kalamazoo ninth on its list of Best Places in Michigan to Get a Job, with a 7.8% unemployment rate and 37.8% prospective future job growth. In particular, employment in the life sciences sector is booming, with the highest concentration of medical devices, equipment, and pharmaceuticals employment in the nation among comparable medium-sized metropolitan areas, thanks partly to investments from companies such as Pfizer.

GreatCollegeDeals rates Kalamazoo seventh on its list of Most Affordable College Towns, with a cost of living 16.9% lower than the national average and 13.6% lower than the state average. Rent.com listed Kalamazoo eighth on its list of Cheapest Places to Live in Michigan, with an average one-bedroom rent price of $1,018

Kalamazoo is well-known for its vibrant craft beer scene, with the most breweries per capita in Michigan, including the nationally-known Bell’s Brewery. It has a thriving cultural scene, with live music venues, restaurants, museums, and theaters. It is also home to Western Michigan University, making it a college town.

Downtown Adrian. (Photo via Dwight Burdette, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)


County: Lenawee

Population: 20,674

Median Age: 34.8

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 14%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  20%

Adrian might be a little small to seem like a college town, but it’s still a college town in a cozy suburban setting. Many of the young adults in the area can likely be traced to Adrian’s two private universities: Adrian College and Siena Heights University. GreatCollegeDeals rates Adrian sixth on its list of Most Affordable Michigan College Towns, with a cost of living 17% lower than the national average and 13.7% lower than the state average. So it’s no wonder a college kid might decide to stay after graduation.

Adrian is home to more than 4,300 inland public lakes and 18 parks, and the oldest theater in the state, the Croswell Opera House. Adrian is just a short drive from the Michigan International Speedway, home to the popular country music festival Faster Horses.

A view of Ferndale’s downtown. (Photo via Lrgjr72, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0/)


County: Oakland

Population: 19,414

Median Age: 35.1

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 4%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  24%

Gen Z is identifying as part of the LGBT community in record numbers, so it’s unsurprising that Michigan’s most famous LGBT-friendly city would feature a large population of young adults. Ferndale’s LGBT-friendly status is well-known with popular LGBT mainstays like Ferndale Pride and gay bar Soho. Other cultural events include DIY Street Festival and Funky Ferndale Art Fair.

Ferndale is renowned for its impressive downtown, with bars, restaurants, specialty stores, cafes, breweries, and much more. Zippia ranked Ferndale fifteenth on its list of Best Places in Michigan to Get a Job, with a 6.5% unemployment rate and 35.8% future job growth. Ferndale features a bustling nightlife and live music scene, with venues such as The Loving Touch and The Magic Bag.

Ferndale’s housing options are numerous, with plenty of rentals and condos downtown. Realtor.com ranked Ferndale ninth on its national list of Best Markets for First-Time Homebuyers in 2022.

The Detroit Zoo aviary in Royal Oak. (Photo via Dave Walker, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Royal Oak

County: Oakland

Population: 58,368

Median Age: 35.8

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 7%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  21%

Royal Oak is one of Detroit’s most notable suburbs. Its status as “20 minutes from anywhere” would make the location attractive to a crowd of young adults, not to mention the prolific entertainment and nightlife scene. Royal Oak’s downtown is one of the largest in the Detroit metropolitan area.

Niche ranked Royal Oak thirteenth on its list of Best Places to Live in Michigan, and Livability listed Royal Oak as one of the Top 25 Best Places to Live in the Midwest. Rent.com listed Royal Oak ninth on its list of Cheapest Places to Live in Michigan, with an average one-bedroom rent price of $1,029.

Royal Oak’s vibrant downtown features several restaurants, cafes, bars, and more. Attractions include the Detroit Zoo, Royal Oak Music Theatre, and Mark Ridley’s Comedy Castle. Royal Oak also features the most diverse craft beer scene in eastern Michigan, with the third-highest number of breweries per capita in the state.

Downtown Hamtramck. (Photo via Andrew Jameson, https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)


County: Wayne

Population: 27,548

Median Age: 27

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 20%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  16%

Hamtramck might have started as a pączki paradise as a city founded by Polish immigrants, but today, it’s making waves with its thriving immigrant community and Muslim city leadership. In 2021, Hamtramck became the first US city with a government entirely run by Muslims; that’s just one of many progressive aspects about Hamtramck that attracts Gen Z.

Hamtramck is also one of the fastest-growing cities in Michigan, not to mention one of the densest. From 2010 to 2020, Hamtramck’s population jumped by a whopping 27%, with nearly 30,000 people crammed into about two square miles. That density also means it’s affordable—Movoto listed Hamtramck second on its list of 10 Most Affordable Detroit Suburbs. Additionally, Apartment Guide listed Hamtramck third on its 2019 national Five Best Cities for Repairing Bad Credit list.

Hamtramck’s cultural and nightlife scene is remarkably unique. It features one of the Detroit area’s finest cultural institutions, Planet Ant, a non-profit professional theater and performance venue including the Independent Comedy Club and Ghost Light Bar. Some of Hamtramck’s most popular events are Pączki Day and 5k Run, Hamtramck Labor Day Festival, and Hamtramck Music Fest.

(Photo via City of Hazel Park – City Hall Facebook)

Hazel Park

County: Oakland

Population: 15,213

Median Age: 37.1

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 11%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage:  18%

Called “The Friendly City,” Hazel Park is one of the Detroit Metro’s hottest up-and-coming suburbs. As young adults, professionals, and budding families have flocked to Hazel Park in the past few years, the demand for housing has boomed. The suburb has been experiencing a “renaissance” for progressive young folks looking for an affordable place to live. Movoto placed Hazel Park fifth on its list of 10 Most Affordable Detroit Suburbs.

And progressive legislation out of Hazel Park is on fire. The city council has passed a human rights ordinance to protect LGBT individuals and banned conversion therapy. Hazel Park is also the latest municipality in Michigan to decriminalize entheogenic plants, following Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and Detroit. Finally, Hotbox Social is Michigan’s first cannabis consumption lounge that calls Hazel Park home.

The city council has also been encouraging entrepreneurs to bring new businesses to the city, resulting in a budding culinary scene with institutions like Frame.

Downtown Marquette. (Photo via Gary Meulemans on Unsplash)


County: Marquette

Population: 20,561

Median Age: 30.2

Estimated 10-19-Year-Old Population Percentage: 12%

Estimated 20-29-Year-Old Population Percentage: 31%

At first blush, you might not think the Upper Peninsula and Gen Z really mix. But the Northern Michigan University college town of Marquette is a prime spot for young adults on the shores of Lake Superior. Marquette is also one of Michigan’s Thriving Cities, and is the largest city in the Upper Peninsula.

With its perfect blend of outdoor recreation and small-town living, Marquette ranked on Ownerly’s national list of America’s Best Cities for Remote Workers. Its cost of living is also incredibly low. NPR ranks Marquette on its national list of five places with the highest standard of living for those with only a high school diploma, meaning these workers get the biggest bang for their buck out of living in Marquette. 

Marquette’s population has grown by 9% in the past year or so. Zippia listed Marquette thirteenth on their list of Best Places in Michigan to Get a Job, with a 7.4% unemployment rate and 35.8% prospective future job growth.

Marquette has a wide variety of annual events, including Art on the Rocks, Hiawatha Traditional Music Festival, International Food Fest, UP200 Sled Dog Races, Marquette Trails Fest, Polar Roll, and Festival of the Angry Bear. Presque Isle Park is one of the best outdoor recreation areas.



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