Calling Aspen’s young people
November 14, 2011
ASPEN – The city has partnered with the Aspen Young Professionals Association in an effort to encourage more civic engagement.
The city will host focus groups that are part of a larger Aspen City Council goal to get the young citizens involved. They hope to develop a plan that can better address concerns of those in the 20 to 40 age group who either live or work in Aspen.
“We expect Aspen’s young professionals to take full advantage of the opportunities being provided in the focus groups and to attend, speak up and let their concerns be heard,” said Chris Bryan, president of AYPA. “This is an ideal forum for young professionals to identify and discuss topics that matter to them and that the city should consider.”
The city community relations director Mitzi Rapkin said the focus groups are the first step toward stronger youth involvement. She speculated that young people who have children or are just beginning careers might be too busy to engage and need to know how they can get around those obstacles.
“Beyond the barriers, we want to find out what would inspire them, what would make them either serve on a board or go to a meeting or come to talk to someone about a policy that they want,” Rapkin said. “I think the ultimate goal is to see what are the ways we can be proactive to get them engaged.”
Rapkin said she expects to hear concerns over a variety of issues including housing, child care, transportation, the environment and recreation.
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The city will hold five focus groups with 20 people per group. The first session on Nov. 16 is already full. Rapkin said about 40 people have already expressed interest in attending the hour-long sessions.
In preparation for the focus groups, council members Adam Frisch and Steve Skadron also met with young community members Thursday night as part of the AYPA speaking series at bb’s kitchen.
Skadron said he has championed the goal of getting young people involved and that it is essential for the future of Aspen.
“You are the next generation,” Skadron told listeners Thursday night. “I want to make sure the Aspen that’s left to you allows you to make it what you want it to be.”
Of the variety of topics that were casually discussed, many were issues that the council expected to hear from young people, such as affordable housing and the environment.
They also discussed tactics of how to get young people to attend meetings in order to express their opinions to the policymakers. Frisch and Skadron agreed their objective is to attract new faces and hear new voices at the council meetings but that they can only do so much to get more people involved.
“A lot of the people who are the most vocal in this town are people who have deep passions, and they developed them when they were our age,” Bryan told the councilmen at the bb’s meeting. “I think people from our generation, all they want to do is know that you’ve taken into account what we have to say. You don’t have to do it necessarily, but it would be awesome if you did.”
Separate from the AYPA and the goals of the city, another group has also taken on the issue of young civic engagement in Aspen. The organization, which is not affiliated with the focus groups, is tentatively named the Aspen Democracy Initiative.
The initiative’s leaders have been generating momentum for young civic engagement by meeting with groups like the Pitkin County Republicans, Pitkin County Democrats and the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies. They also met with members of the city and with the local nonprofit, Tomorrow’s Voices, which provides civic and environmental education for school-age children.
The initiative aims to be nonpartisan.
Jill Teehan, one of the initiative’s organizers, said they want to educate younger residents with various programs that help them become more knowledgeable about democratic principles, public policy and how to take action on issues and get involved in the 2012 election. She said that means meeting with a plethora of existing organizations who have resources that can help coordinate the effort.
“We are really trying to be thoughtful about reaching out to lots of groups,” she said.
Teehan said the initiative, which is in its early stages of development, is pleased that City Council has made it an objective to reach out to young people and that their tasks are in line with what her group is trying to accomplish.
“It is very uplifting to know that the City Council has set this goal to better engage [young people] in civics,” Teehan said.
She said the group also wants to encourage conversation that could alleviate the tension between differing ideals that exists in the political system today.
“There are always going to be different views, and that is the beauty of a democracy,” Teehan said. “I think we need more dialogue, discourse and opportunities to consider different sides and help people understand why they come to the table with certain thoughts.”
The city’s focus groups that still have availability will be held at noon and 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 1. Two others will be held at noon on Dec. 6 and 16.
Free lunch or dinner will be served at each focus group.
To RSVP, email Mitzi Rapkin at email@example.com.