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The Next Generation of Your Planning Commission

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As planners, you have spent a great deal of time thinking about what your town or city should look like in five, ten, twenty years. But have you ever wondered what the planning commission itself will look like in the future? Will you have new, younger members — drawn from those in your community now in their 20′s and 30′s — who will be able to continue the great work of the commission well into the future?

The easiest way to ensure your legacy is to attract younger residents to be a part of the commission, either as members or as active volunteers. Need more incentive? Adding a younger perspective to your commission will probably also benefit your economic development efforts.

The roughly 76 million Americans born between 1978 and 2000 are rapidly redefining the economic geography of the country; they tend to cluster in the same locations, and have a large impact on the future viability of the local economy. Many cities and towns are either trying to attract and retain or to manage huge influxes of this coveted new generation of residents. They are the future that will continue to make your city and town a great place to live and do business.

If you’re used to reaching people through print newsletters and public meetings, you’ll need to adjust your approach.

But plugging in younger residents can be easier said than done. Younger Americans are notorious for being addicted to the Internet and shy to meet in person. So if you’re used to reaching people through print newsletters and public meetings, you’ll need to adjust your approach. Here are some basic to advanced tips for attracting younger members and participants to your planning commission:

  1. Basic: Make a commitment. Designate a point person or subcommittee of your commission to create a plan for attracting and engaging residents in their 20′s and 30′s. Then follow through, and give feedback on progress made to the full commission.
  2. Basic: Be completely online and interactive. Putting all of your content and proceedings online is an absolute minimum requirement of successful outreach. Most importantly, you should create and market opportunities to provide feedback on planning commission issues through your Web site, blog, and e-mail list. Younger residents want to stay in the loop and provide feedback, but the traditional public forum setting often makes no sense to them.
    • Web site. Up-to-date meeting announcements, notes, reports, newsletters, and other content should all be in an accessible format on your Web site.
    • Blog. If you are hard pressed for money to create a Web site from scratch, use Blogger or other free blogging programs to post your content in a blog format. There are a myriad of free Web tools that let you post and link to documents online, from Google Documents to Slideshare.net, so you can link to them on your blog or Web site. Make sure you allow comments on your blog. Finally, don’t forget to give the commission a human face. Profile the people on the commission and add videos about the commission or specific issues.
    • E-mail list. Send out regular e-mails with important announcements, including prominent notices about upcoming events, and opportunities for feedback in the form of polls or questionnaires.

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