Young local residents are forming a “next generation advisory board” to represent the interests of 20- to 40-year-olds to the city government.
The idea for the board came out of focus group meetings that began in November 2011, and a City Council goal of doing more to engage the younger demographic.
“If you ... see who is coming to [City Council] meetings it really is that older demographic,” City Hall community relations director Mitzi Rapkin said. “It would be easier to say [the younger generation] is just apathetic, but I don’t believe that.”
The focus group meetings, which touched on affordable housing, career growth, child care and other issues affecting young Aspenites, attracted a total of about 100 people. The next generation advisory board has 12 members, and is in the process of coming up with bylaws and a mission statement.
The group is all about providing a forum where young people can bring forward issues, and craft policy proposals to bring to the city, according to members. The board also hopes to act as a focal point to gather ideas from other boards in town with young memberships.
The board will divide itself into subcommittees that will focus on specific issues, but those issues have not been settled on yet.
“Just because you are 20 to 40 years old, it doesn’t mean you all have the same agenda,” Rapkin said.
Summer Woodson Berg, a 31-year-old attorney in Aspen who is part of the board, said she hopes the group will look at ways that help young people stay here and start or grow their careers. Many of Woodson’s friends feel that if they lost their current jobs, they would most likely have to leave the valley, she said.
Skippy Mesirow, 26, and an high-tech entrepreneur, said the feeling that career opportunities are limited here is a perception problem in many ways.
“There are resources here to help,” he said.
The meetings that made way for the board were influential in starting a mentorship program that is getting off the ground, and those who attended voiced their hope that the city can set up a business incubator space where people with start-up ideas can have access to office space and other resources.
The next generation board will have a tent at Aspen Highlands on Sunday, the last day of the ski season, where members are hoping to build their contact lists and get more young people interested in what they are doing. The board also submitted a questionnaire to council and mayoral candidates addressing some of the top issues for young people, and will be distributing candidates’ answers at Highlands.
Rapkin said she is pleased to see the effort to engage young people has spurred enough interest that private citizens are taking it upon themselves to set up a board.
“It’s not an easy task to start a board from nothing,” Rapkin said, noting that the issue started as a City Council goal championed by Councilman Steve Skadron. “I’m really excited to see that we can pass this on. I’m happy to see that something about this resonated enough that these young people are going to take it forward.”