City Hall

Surprise! City's Youth Want Different Things than Parents

By Erica C. Barnett April 8, 2010

This afternoon’s Youth Summit, the last of six large community meetings to discuss Mayor Mike McGinn’s Youth and Families Initiative, started out as more of a pep rally than a discussion session, featuring hordes of kids and City Year volunteers, a giant spread of bagels, cookies, Capri Sun, and Subway party sandwiches (but no vegetarian options?!), and an actually pretty cool performance by Blue Scholars’ Geologic and Sabzi about riding the 48 bus, which runs from Columbia City to Ballard.

Then the kids broke up into small groups. Although McGinn’s staff initially told reporters they weren’t allowed to sit in on groups to protect the privacy of youth, they eventually allowed me and a couple other reporters to sit in. (But not before a facilitator asked me if I was a youth, YES!)

In my group at least, the kids’ (mostly teenagers) priorities were markedly different than those at previous Youth and Family Initiative meetings, which were dominated by adults. (Today's meeting was the only one to focus specifically on kids).

Instead of the concerns about gangs, affordable housing, and reducing the high-school drop-out rate, the top five priorities on my small group’s 11-item list were: better-funded community centers with more space for activities; better, more affordable bus options; more light rail; more money for schools; and more open space for youth to use. (Other small groups' top priorities included increasing the housing supply, addressing racism, universal health care, reducing the teen pregnancy rate, and eliminating drunk driving.) The kids showed impressive knowledge of stuff that was way over my head at their age, like taxes on the wealthy, the cost-effectiveness of building light rail at the surface rather than underground, and saving prison money by refocusing spending on rehabilitation instead of drug arrests. (Kid who wanted light rail “along the freeways,” I’m letting you off the hook because you also suggested taking a lane away from cars.)

Their solutions, too, were impressively astute (if a little pie-in-the-sky, not to mention frequently outside the purview of the city): Sell naming rights for community centers to corporations; raise taxes on higher-income people; increase security on buses to reduce harassment; increase the number of electric buses in neighborhoods; and turning abandoned lots into welcoming open spaces.

The city will compile all the ideas from the six youth and families meetings and discuss them at a Kids and Families Caucus on June 5 at Seattle Center.
Show Comments