Keeping Communities Alive

Another small city is lamenting young peoples’ lack of interest in its well-being. Its a scene we can read about any day of the week, where another inner-city community, suburban sprawl, or small town is dieing, and for some reason, youth are to blame.

“They are disinterested in their heritage.”
“They want more culture.”

They, they they… The community groups and business groups that lobby town councils and conduct studies always bemoan young people, effectively displacing the blame from their own shoulders while managing to condem the people they need in order to survive. Of course, these are generally the same folks who slam children in schools as “hooked to their Nintendos” and the youth in schools as “over-drugged, over-sexed” “gang members.” These are the same folks who shove abstinence down teens’ throats and impose curfews or cruising bans… and they wonder why young people are leaving these communities?

A few organizations have begun to campaign in other directions, encouraging community leaders to see youth as a key and then providing these adults with enough tools to engage young people. The National League of Cities has created a nice subsite with tools for community leaders. The national Rural School and Community Trust also focuses heavily on youth engagement throughout communities. However, the dilemma is that with their limited reach, these organizations typically only reach either the top level management of cities or the grassroots leadership of a community; rarely is it both, and even rarer still does it trickle into the mainstream public’s perceptions of young people throughout a community.

There are a growing number of cities where there are a large number of activities that engage children or/and youth as community leaders; however, there are few impact studies that measure their impact, either direct or subsidiary. Even one of my favorite cities, Hampton, Virginia, with its ultra-strong youth involvement program, has little or no impact research that quantifies the effects of young people. (See the “Spotlight” here.)

There needs to be a massive, nationwide movement that elevates the general consciousness about the positive impacts young people have on their communities. That, more than anything else, will keep communities alive.

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