Engaging Millennials in Planning

I was recently on a panel at the Mobilize.org reGenerate summit in Philadelphia. The summit was organized around the question of “how can Millennials play a more active role in shaping the city’s economic and civic life?” It was wonderful to see so many young people passionate about making their places better. I was especially pleased to see so many young people of color. Though plenty of Millennials are committed to improving their communities and cities, their efforts are seldom made visible.

Shaping a place is a highly spontaneous process, driven by every-day conversations, interactions, and (often conflicting) interests of everyone in the community. However, the shape is framed within decisions about laws and regulations, and allocation of public funds and resources. These are the types of decisions made in the formal planning processes.

In my experience, most people who show up to public meetings, or are otherwise involved in the traditional planning process, are older. Also in my experience, there are plenty of young people interested and involved in shaping their communities. However, these young people are seldom involved in formal avenues for planning, which are slower, more opaque, and less responsive than they would like. The tragedy of young people being absent, especially for comprehensive city planning at intervals longer than 10 or 20 years, is that the people who will be living within the frame made today are the very people not involved in the framing.

I’m interested in exploring how planning processes driven by city governments can adapt to be more transparent and responsive. This adaptation wouldn’t only be for the benefit of young people’s sensibilities, but would allow us to create more representative, equitable plans overall.