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Thread: Generation Xers and Millenials on planning commissions

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    Generation Xers and Millenials on planning commissions

    From a member of the baby boom generation:

    We're running an article in the next issue of the Planning Commissioners Journal on how planning commissions can attract members who are in their 20s and 30s. I'd welcome feedback on:
    -- what, if anything, your city (or neighborhood) has done to involve people in their 20s and 30s in local planning -- what's worked, and what hasn't?
    -- do you have any members of your planning commission who are in their 20s or 30s; and, if so, do they tend to bring any different perspectives to issues?

    I'd especially welcome getting any reactions from younger planners in that age range.

    The full text of the draft article, written by Kit Hodge of the Neighbors Project, is available for viewing on our blog site: www.plannersweb.com (posted on Nov. 14, 2007)

  2. #2
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I'm a generation Xer. We've got a mayor in our county younger than me, who started off on a planning commission immediately after high school, I believe, but that is certainly an oddity.

    I'd solicite Poli Sci. professors from nearby universities and colleges, to spread the word that the commission is seeking applicants. Maybe post flyers about it in coffee shops, music stores and places like that.

  3. #3
          Downtown's avatar
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    its only been in the last 5 years that we've started to see people in their 40s on our boards, and in the last couple years gotten a couple of 30somethings.

    but here, board appointment is a much more political thing than perhaps elsewhere.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    We do have a girl in her mid 20s on our comprehensive plan advisory committee, and we are soooo happy about that. She is a recently graduated landscape architect. And she is our only citizen-at-large committee member. We snagged her cause she was the only regular, non-elected, non-agenda person to attend our comp plan kick off open house, and she engaged us all in conversation, with a lot of smart questions. And now, I think she is the only committee member who reads stuff ahead of time and comes prepared with questions and comments.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian The One's avatar
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    Critical!!

    I think it's critical to get a broad-spectrum (not talking about antibiotics RUMPY..he he he) of citizen representatives on these boards! We've got boards loaded with old folks here, most of which are severely compromised by the past and seemingly don't care much for the future...future being next five years MAX While I welcome a "healthy" representation of the elderly....too many beyond local demographics can be problematic.

    Best way to attract the youngin's (relative term now)
    Gen Xer's (myself included) and others:

    1. Pay them for their time away from work! This will help attract people with kids, family and jobs. (younger crowd) How about pay the employer for their time away from work? Sure it isn't jury duty, but I would argue its just as important to society
    2. Have the mayor/commission chair contact employers to emphasise how important it is to get a broad spectrum of citizens on these boards in an attempt to make it easier for people that have jobs and are young to not only apply, but be ok to attend hearings/meetings.
    3. Have more after hours meetings (I can't believe I'm saying this.....not a fan of late night meetings and it can actually dissuade people from joining in my opinion)
    3. Advertise all of this to the public as a whole, to avoid the political cherry picking. Propose a process that does not simply give each elected official the option of picking a crony for a commission or board. Accept applications from all, create an eligibility list based on rationale criteria.....lump them together and have a lottery! or something other than the way its typically done now

    Oh and before any of you start calling for my head for suggesting that "voluntary" boards be staffed by paid members, I'd argue that these are appointed boards (because they are).....also remember, the question was asked about how to get younger people on these boards......this is just one response

    These boards shouldn't be reserved only for the rich or wealthy (as experienced in other places I've worked) enough to take a day off of work twice a month for four years or more. We get who we ask for on these boards, and its high time we start changing the way we invite participants.
    Skilled Adoxographer

  6. #6
    Cyburbian plankton's avatar
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    More so for city councilors and county commissioners (but it could be applied to planning commissioners on a lesser scale), pay them. As a Gen Xer with two small children, I am unable to work full-time and volunteer on my city's planning commission or run for council. I can barely even make it to community visioning meetings and/or workshops. It's frustrating because I know I could add value, and in some cases legitimacy, to the local land use decision-making process but my family and job commitments make it impossible for me to do so.

    Offer elected officials a salary and provide planning commissioners a decent stipend and the demographics of the boards would begin to shift. Easier said than done, right? Not necessarily. If planning commissioners were paid and the positions were actually sought after, performance and effectiveness measures could be applied to their service, expeditious and equitable land use decisions could be incentified, and positive return to the community in the form of tangible economic development dollars could result. Too many planning commissions (and governing bodies) are mired in no-growth/pro-growth animosities and/or good-ole boy/nepotism tactics and applicants suffer in the short-term and communities suffer in the long-term.

    Conclusion: Raise the bar on planning commission performance and effectiveness by implementing modest remuneration in return for their service.

    Great topic for discussion, pcjournal.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Young planner's perspective

    Well in my limited experience...Planning Commissioners are looking to take the next step to City or County Commissioners or they are friends of them and that is how they get their appointment. As far as getting younger planning board members...I think the lack of those types of memeber on boards is a result of younger residents not being as involved in City/County politics, having children, busy schedules, etc.

    If more age divesity is desired, then we need to diversify the areas of town that we seek members from. Have more convienent meeting locations and times. Make it just as likely that a nomination from an 'old' timer is considered just like a younger persons is. Maybe planning departments need to seek out nominations of residents that may not consider running unless they are approached (market!). Sometimes it takes an issue being at your doorstep to get involved.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    thanks for feedback; but would it make a difference?

    Appreciate the feedback from several of you. I was especially struck by the suggestions on paying members for their service -- I think that's a great idea, but probably would be a hard sell especially in smaller communities.

    But let me repeat the second question I asked: would it make a difference in having folks in their 20s and 30s on a commission? Are there generational differences in how people view key community and land development issues? The only response was a brief comment that:
    We've got boards loaded with old folks here, most of which are severely compromised by the past and seemingly don't care much for the future...future being next five years MAX
    .

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I am in my mid-twenties, and I think it is a really bad idea to attract certain types of people onto boards and commissions. If young people, old people, conjoined twins, and bearded ladies are ambitious enough, they will find a way onto these boards on their own merits.

    The majority of younger people are not as familiar with the history and politics as older folks. However, more younger people are not as set in their ways than most older people.

    SERVING on a board or a commission means just that, a SERVICE. You are giving something back to the community. Money should never be used as an incentive.

  10. #10
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Money should never be used as an incentive.
    Incentive, no. But as a courtesy for service, yes.

    We pay our appointed commission/board members nomial amounts - like $10 per meeting, $15 for chair, which not much but helps with the time invested.

    I have been wanting to get on the Plan Commission or Zoning Board where I live, but time/commute/life have not allowed me the time to get to it.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  11. #11
    Cyburbian SGB's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by pcjournal View post
    But let me repeat the second question I asked: would it make a difference in having folks in their 20s and 30s on a commission? Are there generational differences in how people view key community and land development issues?
    I beleive it would certainly make a difference having folks in that generation on a commission. Around here, however, most people in that age range are still very mobile, and not often ready to "settle in" to community service positions much beyond coaching their kids in little leagues.
    All these years the people said he’s actin’ like a kid.
    He did not know he could not fly, so he did.
    - - Guy Clark, "The Cape"

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    I served on a planning commission a few years ago when I was in my early thirties, taking a break from my professional career and being a stay at home mom. I definitely had a different point of view from some of the other planning commission members, three out of four of whom were over sixty.

    A lot of my viewpoint came from my recent child-rearing experience. For example, why do we have such large cars these days? We have to put our children in car seats, which means a large vehicle if you have to put two or three car seats in it. And as a mom I discovered the benefits of drive-though windows (which before and since I'm not so much a fan of). It is so much easier than fastening two or three small (possibly sleeping) children in and out of a car.

    I was more in favor of encouraging home-offices, home-occupations, and home-based businesses, as I and several neighbors and friends, young with small children, looked for new ways to balance jobs and family. I also was a proponent of sidewalks and paths to provide safe ways for walking and biking through neighborhoods and connecting to our downtown.

    Now I serve on an local economic development commission and can see a difference between myself and the "long-timers". Several of the volunteers on this board have been serving in local government for over 20 years. Their memories are long, but the suburban community does have a lot of newer residents. We recently had a big controversy over a land use change and one comment I heard from a city leader was "We decided 20 years ago to do that, why is everyone [the public] making such a big deal about it now?" Having younger members on boards can allow earlier questioning and discussion of long-held ideas that may no longer be true in a community.

    If a community wants to add younger voices to its committees, it also needs to consider what they have to say with an open mind. I have also heard long-time volunteers in my community speak with a little bit of derision for the new ideas younger members have brought up. While many people new to local government have unrealistic expectations about what changes they can make, either in the speed or extent, it doesn't mean those ideas aren't without some merit. Experienced community leaders should be mentors to new volunteers, rather than critics.
    Last edited by skyfire; 15 Nov 2007 at 11:52 AM. Reason: Adding a thought on reception of young members by long-timers

  13. #13
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    A mix of folks is always important, but it is true, nationwide, that young people are less drawn to civil service than in previous generations (I can't remember the study, but I believe there was a thread on it somewhat recently). So, we've got a double whammy with these, I mean us, folks.

    While it is true that younger people do not have the time-depth of our elders, it is still, in my opinion, very important to engage them in public process. We are talking about our future generations, afterall, and ones who soon will likely be having children and entering a phase of life with a new set of needs, concerns and lifestyles that the city/town should be responsive to to ensure future success (for the city/town and the citizens alike). Also, younger people need to be groomed for being the old codgers in their silver years.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  14. #14
    Cyburbian plankton's avatar
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    Without a doubt, younger planning commissioners would view land use proposals differently than older folks. Life is about experience and if one has lived through the Great Depression or WWII and another only knows life with unlimited text messaging, on-demand services, and half-caf skinny vanilla lattes then the two would almost certainly view the impacts of development differently based on a set of values that were derived in different eras under much different circumstances.

    As others have stated, the key to an effective board is diversity amongst its members. A respectful chair with strong leadership skills and working knowledge of due process and public meeting law certainly helps, too.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    Our commission consists of active farmers and retired professionals, the youngest being in her late forties. I, for one, wish we had more diversity on the board- currently they almost always side witn other farmers if possible and over emphasize the importance of their sector of the economy.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

  16. #16
    How did you go about getting appointed? just curious, and did you serve on the PC for the same city/county you worked in? how did that go? it sounds like a good way to stay at home with your kids, but still remain involved in planning (and look at things from a different prespective).







    Quote Originally posted by skyfire View post
    I served on a planning commission a few years ago when I was in my early thirties, taking a break from my professional career and being a stay at home mom. I definitely had a different point of view from some of the other planning commission members, three out of four of whom were over sixty.

    A lot of my viewpoint came from my recent child-rearing experience. For example, why do we have such large cars these days? We have to put our children in car seats, which means a large vehicle if you have to put two or three car seats in it. And as a mom I discovered the benefits of drive-though windows (which before and since I'm not so much a fan of). It is so much easier than fastening two or three small (possibly sleeping) children in and out of a car.

    I was more in favor of encouraging home-offices, home-occupations, and home-based businesses, as I and several neighbors and friends, young with small children, looked for new ways to balance jobs and family. I also was a proponent of sidewalks and paths to provide safe ways for walking and biking through neighborhoods and connecting to our downtown.

    Now I serve on an local economic development commission and can see a difference between myself and the "long-timers". Several of the volunteers on this board have been serving in local government for over 20 years. Their memories are long, but the suburban community does have a lot of newer residents. We recently had a big controversy over a land use change and one comment I heard from a city leader was "We decided 20 years ago to do that, why is everyone [the public] making such a big deal about it now?" Having younger members on boards can allow earlier questioning and discussion of long-held ideas that may no longer be true in a community.

    If a community wants to add younger voices to its committees, it also needs to consider what they have to say with an open mind. I have also heard long-time volunteers in my community speak with a little bit of derision for the new ideas younger members have brought up. While many people new to local government have unrealistic expectations about what changes they can make, either in the speed or extent, it doesn't mean those ideas aren't without some merit. Experienced community leaders should be mentors to new volunteers, rather than critics.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
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    Write a letter to your mayor expressing interest (my dad did it that way to get on the library board and he is now the board chairman).

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Earthy girl View post
    How did you go about getting appointed? just curious, and did you serve on the PC for the same city/county you worked in? how did that go? it sounds like a good way to stay at home with your kids, but still remain involved in planning (and look at things from a different prespective).
    I just sent in a letter expressing my interest, also enclosing a resume. I did not work for either community I volunteer(ed) for. I was on a planning commission in a township within the county I previously worked for, but there was no conflict, as county review was purely advisory, and mostly ignored.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    I think that there is a fear on the part of baby boomers that gen-xers will begin to bring about change and they see this a threat to their comfortable way of doing things and way of thinking for the last 15-20 years. Therefore, I believe (I know) that there is a strong resistence to allowing gen-xers on plan commissions and boards.

    I am on the young side of being a gen-xer who attempted to get appointed to a town plan commission and for this very reason was not selected by the baby boomer town board, despite the interest of existing plan commission members and community residents to have me take the seat considering my background as a planner (and knowing that I am somewhat vocal and will question decisions)

  20. #20
    Cyburbian Plus pcjournal's avatar
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    how would gen-xers change things?

    ruralplanner said:
    I think that there is a fear on the part of baby boomers that gen-xers will begin to bring about change and they see this a threat to their comfortable way of doing things and way of thinking for the last 15-20 years.
    Can you explain this? I guess what I'm trying to get at is just what are some of the differences in outlook that gen-xers would bring to a planning commission? And what kind of change would they bring?

  21. #21
    Cyburbian ruralplanner's avatar
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    Before I attempt to answer your questions, it is important to understand that my perspective comes from rural experiences and not urban-like areas that typically see transient populations and shifts in demographic over time. The other part to understand about rural areas is family history. Many of the town/village boards consist of people who have some family lineage to the first settlers in the area and anyone living in a rural area that does not have this lineage is typified as an ‘outsider’. This is the first hurdle to overcome to mixing up plan commissions with different people and different perspectives. Traditional ways of thinking and doing things die hard, even if these traditional practices no longer meet the needs of a particular community.

    That being said, I think that some of the significant differences between the two generations are as follows. These are my own opinions and should not be construed to be true in all cases.

    1. Gen-xers tend to be interested in representing the needs and views of the community and are more likely to employ community involvement methods to making community decisions. This may include tools such as formal concesus, study circles etc. Bbers tend to make decisions based upon their own personal beliefs of what is right or wrong for a community and place less emphasis on finding that common community thread.

    2. Gen-xers seem to be interested in a wider breadth of issues related to community planning and how the community functions on a regional, national, or global level. I think that the Bbers tend to limit their thoughts and decisions to the immediate community and maybe the county, but rarely how the community competes or compares on a larger regional level. In other words, Bbers are focused on the quality of their local roads (as in when the next seal coat is needed) and not the function these roads play on a regional level in terms of positioning the community economically to move goods or to accommodate increased development or to include multi-modal forms of transportation such as sidewalks or bike paths.
    3. Gen-xers bring with them a wealth of information pertaining to how other communities have been successful in terms of preservation issues and the built environment to create communities with unique identity and lasting value. Bbers seem to be more interested in generating economic development that provides jobs and income to a community, even at the expense of community character. It is the difference between a thriving community ‘downtown’ or a series of pole buildings or strip malls with no lasting architectural or community traits.

    4. Gen-xers place a higher emphasis on community services, especially those that serve families such as libraries, schools, community sponsored family functions etc. Bbers are past that stage and place a higher emphasis on senior programs. Both are important, but without both a community becomes unsustainable.


    I think that overall, gen-xers have the ability to bring new and innovative ideas to the table that were otherwise not heard of or well understood by baby boomers. I also have to believe that gen-xers are more interested overall in developing a sense of community, not in the traditional Bber ways such as the annual firemen’s smelt feed, but rather through the development of vibrant meeting places such as downtowns, new libraries, performance space, kid friendly events, coffee shops etc.

    Bbers hold tight to their way of doing things and as I stated in some fashion before, they may feel threatened by a gen-xer coming in wanting to change the rules and do things differently. I think that in order for it to work, gen-xers need to understand this history and in some sense traditional ways of the Bber, however Bbers need to be open to new ideas and learning and begin to embrace change for the better. It seems to me that the most successful (rural) communities have a balance of both old and young Bbers. Having young Bbers on a PC seems to be the most successful way to transition PC’s to begin incorporating Gen-xers. The straight shift from old school Bber to young school Gen-xer is just too abrupt in most cases.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    How do you attract younger commissioners?

    1. Ask them.

    It may just be the places I choose to live, but my last three hometowns had younger (late-20s / early to mid-30s) planning commissioners, as well as DDA board members, etc. I think in all cases it was just a matter of seeing who the young folks were who attended meetings, or otherwise figuring out who was already civicly involved, and then asking them if they'd considered serving on a board or commission.

    2. Consider shorter appointment terms.

    Not too many years ago, when I was in grad school, around age 24, a couple of city council members approached me about serving on PC. I considered it, but couldn't commit to the three-year term, as whether or not I'd be around in three years (I wanted to be) was going to depend on whether my wife and I could find jobs locally.

    Yes, there's the concern that they won't have a chance to get experience in the workings of the PC with a shorter term, but it's our job as the professionals involved to do a little hand-holding with regards to process, the law, etc.

    3. Publicize what the PC is and what it does. People in general have an ignorance as to how government works; older people have probably at least had the chance to get to know the people in government, and learn how it works that way, but the younger types will probably need a little education. (Besides, your town, like all towns, could probably benefit from a little "why planning matters" push...)

  23. #23
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    I'm Gen X (mid 30's) and have served as an elected official for several years.

    Many of the suggestions have been very good.

    Something that I haven't mentioned to the media or used in campaigning is that I have been interested in planning for many years. In fact, I spent hundreds of hours on it during my teens. What exactly did I do? I played a LOT of SimCity. If you turn off the rampaging Godzilla mode, you can learn a lot about the basics of planning and local governance. If nothing else, you learn you need to find the right balance of things for your community.

    As Sim City is one of the most popular games ever, there may be more you people interested in planning than you might think.

    That said, it is tougher to get younger people interested in appointed or elected boards, but there are plenty of people in their later 20's and early 30's who are property owners and have much more at stake and are willing to look farther into the future. So many people who run for office or apply to boards are older and frankly won't be around in 10-20 years. There are plenty of responsible young adults out there who don't want the old folks to ruin everything.

    In our town, older people love it when younger people get involved in town issues, so it is a matter of exposure not entrenched power keeping young people out.

  24. #24
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    I am almost 30 and have sent my application and resume to our Village Clerk to be considered for a development review board (Plan Commission, Zoning Board of Appeals, Historic Commission, etc.).

    I'm really interested and hope to provide my professional experience to the muni.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  25. #25
    Cyburbian KSharpe's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by ruralplanner View post
    Before I attempt to answer your questions, it is important to understand that my perspective comes from rural experiences and not urban-like areas that typically see transient populations and shifts in demographic over time. The other part to understand about rural areas is family history. Many of the town/village boards consist of people who have some family lineage to the first settlers in the area and anyone living in a rural area that does not have this lineage is typified as an ‘outsider’. This is the first hurdle to overcome to mixing up plan commissions with different people and different perspectives. Traditional ways of thinking and doing things die hard, even if these traditional practices no longer meet the needs of a particular community.

    That being said, I think that some of the significant differences between the two generations are as follows. These are my own opinions and should not be construed to be true in all cases.

    1. Gen-xers tend to be interested in representing the needs and views of the community and are more likely to employ community involvement methods to making community decisions. This may include tools such as formal concesus, study circles etc. Bbers tend to make decisions based upon their own personal beliefs of what is right or wrong for a community and place less emphasis on finding that common community thread.

    2. Gen-xers seem to be interested in a wider breadth of issues related to community planning and how the community functions on a regional, national, or global level. I think that the Bbers tend to limit their thoughts and decisions to the immediate community and maybe the county, but rarely how the community competes or compares on a larger regional level. In other words, Bbers are focused on the quality of their local roads (as in when the next seal coat is needed) and not the function these roads play on a regional level in terms of positioning the community economically to move goods or to accommodate increased development or to include multi-modal forms of transportation such as sidewalks or bike paths.
    3. Gen-xers bring with them a wealth of information pertaining to how other communities have been successful in terms of preservation issues and the built environment to create communities with unique identity and lasting value. Bbers seem to be more interested in generating economic development that provides jobs and income to a community, even at the expense of community character. It is the difference between a thriving community ‘downtown’ or a series of pole buildings or strip malls with no lasting architectural or community traits.

    4. Gen-xers place a higher emphasis on community services, especially those that serve families such as libraries, schools, community sponsored family functions etc. Bbers are past that stage and place a higher emphasis on senior programs. Both are important, but without both a community becomes unsustainable.


    I think that overall, gen-xers have the ability to bring new and innovative ideas to the table that were otherwise not heard of or well understood by baby boomers. I also have to believe that gen-xers are more interested overall in developing a sense of community, not in the traditional Bber ways such as the annual firemen’s smelt feed, but rather through the development of vibrant meeting places such as downtowns, new libraries, performance space, kid friendly events, coffee shops etc.

    Bbers hold tight to their way of doing things and as I stated in some fashion before, they may feel threatened by a gen-xer coming in wanting to change the rules and do things differently. I think that in order for it to work, gen-xers need to understand this history and in some sense traditional ways of the Bber, however Bbers need to be open to new ideas and learning and begin to embrace change for the better. It seems to me that the most successful (rural) communities have a balance of both old and young Bbers. Having young Bbers on a PC seems to be the most successful way to transition PC’s to begin incorporating Gen-xers. The straight shift from old school Bber to young school Gen-xer is just too abrupt in most cases.
    think this is a bit prejudiced. I think both generations have positives to offer. For example, Gen Xrs may try to make changes that won't work well, because they haven't had experience teach them otherwise yet, They have less experience dealing with conflict in appropriate ways. My experience (by the way, I am a Gen Xr) has been that GenXrs can be a bit naive and simplistic on issues as well. It would be good to have a mix of ages, occupations, genders, races, etc to give a wide breadth of experience and viewpoint.
    Do you want to pet my monkey?

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