Littleton City Council wants to know what young people think. A plan under consideration by city council would create a group called the Next Generation Advisory Committee, to be composed of young …
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Littleton City Council wants to know what young people think. A plan under consideration by city council would create a group called the Next Generation Advisory Committee, to be composed of young people who would comment on issues affecting the city's future.
The committee's aims were outlined at a June 5 city council study session by Councilmember Kyle Schlachter, who is spearheading the effort. According to a draft of the group's bylaws, the goals would be “to provide insight from the 17-34 year old demographics' perspective on council policy initiatives.
Members explore topics that are of interest to the young professionals, including education, employment and economic opportunity, access to state and local government services, housing, the environment, behavioral and physical health, substance use, poverty, and increased youth civic engagement.”
The committee would consist of seven to 11 members, including three current students of Littleton Public Schools, one current student of Arapahoe Community College, and between three and seven at-large members not enrolled in LPS or ACC but who live or work in Littleton. Meetings would be held at least quarterly and at most monthly, and the group would sunset after two years for re-evaluation by city council.
Young people are something of a paradox for city government, Schlachter said, as their concerns and needs are of vital importance to ensure a prosperous and functional future for the city, though they are often among the least-engaged age demographics at council meetings.
Furthermore, cities should be marketing themselves to millennials, Schlachter said, because the increasing trend of working remotely means that young people are often unshackled from the constraints of working on-site and can choose where they live with greater freedom.
Expecting young people to bring their concerns to council is passé, Schlachter said.
“City council meetings are passive engagement,” Schlachter said. “Inviting comment on an issue is reactive engagement. We need to be more proactive.”
Councilmember Carol Fey countered that previous engagement activities have already identified significant issues that cross age demographics, and wondered what else could be expected to be identified by a youth council.
The most important issues across the board were affordable housing and traffic congestion, Fey said.
“They come to us with these things, and we don't deliver, then what?” Fey said. “Maybe (young people) don't feel welcome (at council meetings), but I think a lot of citizens don't, so maybe we need to work to seem more approachable.”
The creation of such a committee could give the impression that young people were getting special treatment, Fey said, adding that if council created the committee, it would be only fair to create committees for any other demographic that wanted one.
“If the homeless want special access — I can't imagine them getting that organized — but if they do, we need to do it if we do it for this group.”
City council doesn't know what it doesn't know about the concerns of young people, said Councilmember Patrick Driscoll.
“Things we're not thinking about, (young people) already are,” Driscoll said. “When we talk about parking problems, how is that impacted if 75 percent of millennials are thinking they want to live without a car? These types of things will affect the city down the road.”
The idea of convening committees to draw insight from important stakeholder groups is nothing new for Littleton, said Mayor Debbie Brinkman, citing previous committees composed of business owners.
Many citizens are simply too busy working, going to school or raising families — or all three — to engage with local government, Brinkman said.
“Where we don't do our job is where we assume things,” Brinkman said. “I like the idea of hearing more from the under-40 set. That's the next workforce… As we look at the budget, what do we invest in? What should our priorities be? Getting input from people who will be the core of the community is important.”
City council will continue to debate the proposed committee's merits and functions in coming months, Brinkman said.
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