How Should We Include Young People in Chapel HIll 2020?

Originally published for
By Rosemary Waldorf, Co-Chair, Chapel Hill 2020

In looking over the age demographics of today’s Chapel Hill community, I find myself with questions to think about. This is what the latest census information tells us about our very own generational split.

Generation                        Age Range              Percent of Chapel Hill Population
Greatest                           87 and older          1.5%
Silent/Mature                   66-86                      7.0%
Boomer                            47-65                      18.0%
Generation X                   30-46                      13.9%
Generation Y                   16-29                      46.2%
Generation Z                    < 16                        13.4%
These are categories used by the American Planning Association, and the statistics were provided by Mitch Silver, President of the APA and Planning Director for the City of Raleigh.
XYZ generation split is 73.5 percent. In other words, 73.5 percent of the Chapel Hill residents are aged 46 or younger. Gen Y is our largest cohort, at 46.2 percent. Not surprising, as we have around 27,000 undergraduate and graduate students here at Carolina.
Here’s the big question. In our Chapel Hill 2020 process, how do we plan for the needs and aspirations of this 73.5 percent of the population? I’ve attended every 2020 meeting to date, and my observation is that a significant majority of participants fall into the “Boomer” and “Silent or Mature” generations.
Some youthful participation is happening. Local high school students have been holding focus groups to gather their thoughts and inject them into the process. Our town staff is planning Kids City (a project we will carry out through the schools), which will give kids a crack at town design and planning.
George Cianciolo and I have met with UNC students who were interested enough to attend an open house at the Carolina Union on November 29. And Brian Russell is working hard to recruit the Gen X and Y crowd for our Jan. 21 “Unconference” on Innovation. Faith Thompson, our 2020 Outreach Coordinator, is working daily to reach out to the X, Y and Z’ers, along with all other groups.
When I was on the Town Council (1995-2001), the elected officials and advisory board leaders were very aggressive about getting new school sites and more recreational facilities. We worked with developers and received donated sites for Scroggs and Rashkis elementaries, located in Southern Village and Meadowmont, neighborhoods that are dense (for Chapel Hill) and heavily populated with school-aged kids.
We also emphasized making our inventory of park land useful. A 1996 bond issue approved money for the Homestead Park development and aquatics center and the Southern Community Park development. We partnered with Orange County to get county investment in these community facilities.
We encouraged the University to provide more on-campus housing, which they have done, and done well.
What about today? And tomorrow?
Are there reasonable school sites we should be identifying? With our shortage of undeveloped land, should we be encouraging new schools to go up and not out? The decision to locate the next elementary school on the old Northside site was definitely a “smart growth” decision.
Let’s think about those UNC students who are juniors, seniors and grad students, many of whom do not want to live on campus. Can we find creative options? There has been much discussion and angst about the deleterious effects on Northside and Pine Knolls created student rentals.
Should we encourage development of housing for upper classmen and graduate students downtown — IN THE CENTRAL BUSINESS DISTRICT — not in the neighborhoods that ring the CBD? To me this makes sense. It would strengthen our downtown businesses, put more eyes and feet on the street, improving both downtown safety and vitality.
One of our theme groups — A Place for Everyone — is focusing specifically on needs of our teenagers. Community Prosperity and Engagement has taken up the subject of job creation for 20-somethings.
A comment making the rounds: Chapel Hill’s number one export is highly educated young people. In other words, our kids matriculate in our excellent school system, achieve, and leave. Is this what we want?
In ten years, and 20 years, how can Chapel Hill be a better home for all age groups?

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