Community visions and comprehensive plans are typically developed for long-term time-horizons: 20, 30 or even 50 years into the future. Yet, planners do not always focus on involving young people—those most likely to be impacted in the long haul—in the planning process.
Youth engagement in local planning provides substantial benefits not only to the process of planning, but also to its outcomes. Kids bring fresh, often surprisingly insightful perspectives and ideas that can lead to improved plans. The participation of kids also makes the process more fun! Perhaps most important, participating in the planning process offers young people opportunity to develop leadership skills, allows them to better understand their community and the workings of local government, and helps them develop habits of good citizenship and civic participation.
Involve youth in the planning process by establishing partnerships with local school districts from the beginning. An involvement strategy should clearly communicate the purpose and anticipated outcomes of each activity, and how they relate to each other. In WRT’s recently completed plan for St. Charles Parish, a high school senior represented youth interests on the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee. His contributions helped to shape the concept for a community-wide network of bicycle path linkages and prioritize the need for complete streets. In addition, youth-focused workshops catered to local high school juniors and seniors. Because these workshops were held at each key step of the planning process, the youth participants were able to see how their contributions shaped the vision, land use choices, and the final plan.