The UniverCities Story, Part 2: The Millennial Mayors Congress

The metropolitan youth voice is heard.

Metro Detroit is one region, but our hundreds of local governments don’t reflect that. In contrast, places from Portland to Indianapolis have adopted various forms of metropolitan government to supplement local governments and tackle big-picture issues, like transportation and urban development, at a regional level. Here in Michigan, the lack of platforms for regional thinking has hindered collective action, but in 2009, the Suburbs Alliance sought to fill the vacuum with a new kind of metropolitan forum. Its special ingredient? Young people.

The Millennial Mayors Congress pairs elected officials in participating metro Detroit cities with youth from their communities, aged 18 to 35, who serve together as delegates to the Congress. Why the youth element? As the U.S. economy shifts away from the manufacturing that once dominated Detroit, young people have supplanted factories as a region’s most valuable resource. Yet metro Detroit’s centrifugal pattern of sprawl development hasn’t helped produce the kind of places where today’s young people want to live. Millennials, aged 18 to 35, tend to favor more diverse, sustainable, compact communities where they don’t need a car to get around. By partnering young people with elected leaders, the Congress makes sure their voices help shape a more sustainable, prosperous future for everyone in the region.

The region's elected leaders take note.

Bringing in fresh faces helped ready the Congress to meet the challenge of its second major innovation: making decisions by regional consensus. In the past, metro Detroit’s communities have competed against each other, instead of uniting for the benefit of the region at large. The results haven’t been pretty, and even the short-term “winners” of this contest end up losing in the long run, as youth take off for places where new development isn’t limited to cul-de-sacs.

The Millennial Mayors Congress replaces that broken paradigm with a new model for regional prosperity that respects the autonomy and individuality of each community, but also insists on cooperative action for the common good. It’s only natural that in its first major initiative, the Congress opted to better steward our communities’ ultimate collective treasure: the planet. We’ll conclude the UniverCities saga next time with the story of the energy conservation initiative that brought this year’s interns into action.

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