Have you ever felt like the youngest person in the room? Growing up in a civically-engaged family, I constantly found myself the youngest person at neighborhood meetings.
In 2000, at age 13, I went on the record at a Saint Paul community meeting to oppose a project that would have destroyed aspects of my neighborhood. A bus-way from downtown Saint Paul to Mall of America was proposed to travel down the center of West 7th Street. This transit project would have cut service levels, divided the neighborhood in half, and taken away boulevard trees. Because of my young age, people at the meeting asked me, "Why are you here?" I answered, "I'm here because I care."
Fast forward to 2014.
I currently sit on the board of my Saint Paul neighborhood district council. This board doubles as a nonprofit and a community development corporation. Saint Paul is lucky to have a local form of governance like the Neighborhood District Council System. It is relatively easy to become civically engaged in your community by participating in your neighborhood district council.
At 27, I am the youngest person on my neighborhood council. While others are happy that I’m involved on the council, I can feel like the token millennial. Sometimes I still get looks from visitors that ask, “What are you doing here?”
Like other forms of government, my neighborhood council doesn't reflect the actual demographics of the community. In 2011, 18-34-year-olds made up 30% of my neighborhood population, but currently only 8% of the neighborhood district council. This divergence becomes apparent when our neighborhood council votes on issues with a generational divide like transportation.
According to a 2013 report from USPIRG, "The Millennial generation is leading the change in transportation trends. 16 to 34-year-olds drove a whopping 23 percent fewer miles on average in 2009 than in 2001."
As a millennial, I totally fit into the narrative of the MPRIG report, as I haven't always driven a car. With my millennial perspective, I often find myself alone in advancing younger viewpoints on transportation issues. Unlike council members from other generations, I simply don't believe that the neighborhood council should spend time, resources, and money to make our neighborhood more car-friendly.
Given that I am the youngest person on the board, issues like transportation become a hard fight since I am the only vote representing the generation with the greatest decline in miles driven. Without more young people civically engaged or participating in neighborhood district councils, we will lack a voice on policies that could have a great impact on younger generations. Decisions are being made about our future whether millennials are at the table or not, and I do not want to continue to feel forever young at every neighborhood meeting I attend.
My hope is that more young people will take advantage of getting involved in our district council system so that approved policies better represent the positions of millennials. Get involved in your neighborhood council in Saint Paul neighborhoods or Minneapolis neighborhoods.
photo used with permission of author.