BROOKINGS – Youth can give a unique perspective to issues, Jaixai Reineke explained to the Brookings City Council during a study session on Dec. 10. The council is considering organizing a Brookings Youth Council to get input from young people.
In October, Councilor Dan Hansen requested that the council research developing a Brookings Youth Council and discuss it at the December meeting. Other communities have youth councils, and he’s looked into those councils.
“I think all of us can agree that we’d all be better off the more we engage our younger population as a community to help develop future leaders,” Hansen said.
Several of the city’s committees already have high school representatives.
“I think history would tell us we often struggle to find consistent representation on those,” Hansen said.
The problem, he believes, is those representatives are not always heard and not always empowered to be a part of the conversation. That, along with busy schedules makes it difficult for people to invest the time, he said.
He turned the presentation over to Reineke, a local ninth-grader.
Hearing from youth
For the past three years, Reineke has organized a TEDx youth event, the only youth-organized event in the Dakotas. She was a keynote speaker at the 2019 Main Street North Dakota Summit in October.
Brookings needs a Youth Council, she said, “because it can serve as a resource for you the city council on youth perspectives, provide leadership opportunities for Brookings youth, and increase civic engagement,” Reineke said.
“Youth definitely have a different perspective from adults,” Reineke said. “We’re growing up in a new generation, with new advancements.”
By the numbers
She illustrated her point by providing information she gathered in a survey of 1,300 people the day before her talk in North Dakota, asking what amenities they would like to see built into a park.
Reineke divided the answers by age: over 50, 25-50, and under 25. Some answers were the same across the board, but some varied by age.
Common answers included walking paths, bike trail, playground equipment, games, benches, trees, splash pad, green space, gathering space, stage, accessibility, lighting, bathrooms, garden, electricity, art, sports complex, interactive components, fountain, food carts, ponds, picnic area.
Those over 50 wanted playgrounds for adults and children to share; bike rental; cross country ski rental; and campfire areas for songs/stories.
Those 25-50 wanted workout equipment; zipline; drinking fountains; stone pizza oven; ice skating rink; and space for animals.
Those under 25 wanted to look at low income or high needs areas for the location; historic integration; eco-park; roller rink; and outdoor movie theater.
“So each group has a different idea,” Reineke noted. “When we are given an idea, … we often think of how we’re going to be affected.”
But the perspective of youths is often left out, she said.
Getting the youth perspective can be very valuable. She used the example of bike lanes because kids use them to bike to school every day.
“Instead of looking at routes that we put on major roads, we can look at common routes to school,” Reineke said.
Having a safe route to school is important, since bicycling is prohibited on certain sidewalks and adults don’t want their kids bicycling on the road, Reineke said.
According to Brookings’ city ordinance, bicycling on sidewalks is prohibited near the downtown area, specifically on Main Avenue between the railroad tracks and Sixth Street; or Third, Fourth and Fifth Street from Third Avenue to Fifth Avenue. Bicycle riding upon all other public sidewalks in the city is permitted.
Some adults might bring up a youth’s perspective, but they tend to do it by looking back at their own youth and the times in which they lived then, Reineke said, but today’s children are growing up in a new generation.
“My childhood is probably a lot different than any of your childhood,” she told the council.
It’s important to do more than just encourage youth to present ideas, Reineke said.
“If we had this Youth Council, they’d be able to bring up different issues that adults may not think of,” she said. “I think … more youth would be more comfortable bringing their ideas for it, to people like them.
“It’d also be saying that we value their opinion,” Reineke said.
More parents would be involved because their children are, and that could inspire the adults to start being more engaged in the community, she said.
“I also think it’s one thing to learn something in class, and an entirely different thing to learn it through experience,” she said.
One rep versus a council
Having a youth representative on a board is a good idea, but that gives one youth’s perspective per issue, which can limit information. That’s why some cities are installing youth councils, like Rapid City, which has had a youth city council since October, Reineke said.
The National League of Cities’ website has information on how to start youth councils, she said.
She shared the NLC’s framework on authentic youth civic engagement with four roles for city leaders: welcome youth in local government; develop infrastructure that supports youth participation in government; create meaningful opportunities for youth to make a difference; and build youth/adult partnerships to support engagement.
“I think having a youth city council would accomplish all four of these,” Reineke said.
“I hope that Brookings will take this step to be a leader for other communities,” she said.
Into the future
Mayor Keith Corbett asked Hansen and Reineke how they plan to proceed.
Hansen said the two of them are willing to work with others or have city staff take the lead, even though that might require more city staff time.
He said it could also be done by trimming down the number of city boards.
“Knowing that some never meet and some that do don’t really have the same purpose that they had originally,” Hansen said. “Certainly there’s a wide range of possibilities.”
Councilor Holly Tilton Byrne liked Hansen’s idea of taking the opportunity to assess all of the boards; it’s something they’ve often talked about but haven’t yet done.
“Why don’t we just put our thinking caps on and email back to Councilman Hansen and decide how we want to go with it,” Corbett said.
Councilor Patty Bacon asked Reineke what ideas she’d propose.
Reineke wants a council comprised of five to seven youth from middle school and/or high school.
It can start in a small way, such as them being in charge of a community event, Hansen said. They could start with current youth representatives and “integrate some of those in a more meaningful way at the city level,” he said.
The council discussed doing more research into youth councils and how they might recruit or appoint members to a future youth council.
Contact Jodelle Greiner at [email protected]