At the Psychic Temple – a rehabbed historic building that is now home to advertising firm interTrend Communications – individuals from throughout the West Coast filled up on coffee and bagel bites, awaiting a panel discussion on a topic they very much wanted to get a better handle on. You guessed it: Millennials.


The March 16 discussion in Long Beach, “Millennials Shaping Cities,” was part of the West Coast Urban District Forum, an annual gathering of city and business district officials from major and growing downtowns in California, Oregon and Washington. Attendees of the panel discussion hailed from Encinitas, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Bakersfield, Pasadena, Westwood and several other cities.


As a Millennial it was nothing short of delightful to see the people who run downtowns in my home state actually eager to learn about how my generation is influencing cities. Not one whisper of “they’re ruining everything,” was uttered. It was, as my dad would say, A Red Letter Day.


The reason for the gathering was perhaps best summed up by moderator Jessica Lall, CEO of the Central City Association (CCA) of Los Angeles, who said: “Millennials are the target demographic that everybody is trying to figure out.”


Sorry, other generations.


Panelists included: Nick Griffin, director of economic development for L.A.’s Downtown Center Business Improvement District; Lexey Radcliff, senior community manager overseeing Southern California locations of WeWork (including the one in Long Beach); and Joanne Danganan, head of membership and marketing for the CCA. Both Radcliff and Danganan are Millennials.


Predictably, the discussion eventually moved toward answering the million-dollar question, “But what do Millennials want?” particularly in the context of retail. This spurred a series of postulations about socially responsible brands, unique and high quality goods, and locally sourced items.


But the panel kicked off with a loftier framework, one centered on Millennials’ desires as not siloed within their generation. And that’s when things got interesting.


Griffin suggested that the discussion around Millennials is really “increasingly the zeitgeist of the whole society.” He explained, “Since it’s increasingly the largest cohort, it’s influencing the whole society. So then what you’re really talking about is the whole society to the extent that preferences or tastes or practices that we might identify as ‘Millennial’ per se are increasingly . . . where all of society is shifting.”


Griffin argued when examining ways to appeal to Millennials, it would perhaps be better to tackle it from this broader perspective.


“What are a couple of the big things in society that are reflective of the shifting demographic and are relevant to cities?” he asked. “One is technology – because that’s one of the defining factors of the Millennial experience and how society is changing,” he said.


Another factor is the “socially conscious and civic minded mentality” of Millennials, Griffin said. This is perhaps why many cities are improving – “because these people are engaged in it,” he explained.


For this reason, an upcoming campaign of his business district is called “Make Downtown Yours,” encouraging residents and community members to “embrace this city and help it to grow and improve,” in addition to leveraging its resources to foster their own creativity, he explained.


WeWork, an international collective of offices offering its members a variety of affordable options for work environments throughout its network, opened a location in Downtown Long Beach last year. Its offices are enclosed in glass and include a variety of open community spaces, providing for a collaborative, open environment, Radcliff noted.


“I think that the cities we have gone into – some of the newer markets like Long Beach and San Diego – we like to partner with the city and be a platform to help the cities grow the downtown communities and be like a showcase office space for Millennials coming through,” Radcliff said. “We can show them that you don’t have to run away to San Francisco or New York to be in a collaborative, amazing workspace . . . . You can stay in the smaller downtown communities like Long Beach and San Diego to grow your business.”


The short version of her explanation for a major aspect of WeWork’s business model is this: the shift towards creative, open and collaborative offices is another societal trend that doesn’t only apply to Millennials, but is driven and embraced by them.


Danganan said CCA’s membership includes about 400 businesses. “The commonalities among members of CCA’s and the Millennial generation is that we want to be connected,” she said. While members love the face-to-face time of monthly networking events, it’s a challenge to get them to engage on social media, she noted. “Millennials do just want to connect, and that’s how social media has become such an essential part of their lives.”


“With CCA, it’s a challenge to balance the two [approaches to connected,]” she explained. “But as Millennials are entering these industries, construction and development and the like, I think it will change the way that those companies operate in terms of marketing especially,” she said.


In essence, the panel hit on something that rings truer than I think many public dialogues about Millennials often do. People are interested in what Millennials want not just because we make up the majority of the population. They’re interested in us because we’re altering society as a whole.


Hopefully that instills you with a sense of opportunity and optimism instead of giving you nightmares.