If you must call us that.
Millennials want riverfront development. Millennials want a new sports arena downtown. Millennials want a safe place to raise families. Millennials want affordable housing. Millennials want luxury condos.
At different points during my brief history in Fort Wayne, I’ve heard all of these arguments made about my generation—the millennial generation—and what we supposedly want out of living here. And as a millennial who lives here, I can even attest that some of these ideas are true.
But listening to regional conversations about growth and change the past few years, there are also things I’ve found troubling about these conversations. Two big things, actually.
First, the people who are usually making bold proclamations about what millennials want aren’t millennials themselves.
Instead, they’ve either done some research on the inter-webs or surveyed a group of so-called millennials about what they want and projected those people’s opinions and ideas onto an entire generation.
In some ways, I feel privileged that my generation is getting so much attention. I realize that lawmakers and local leaders are trying to give millennials a proverbial “gift” by framing their policies and plans based on our young and naïve preferences. (Thank you.)
However, anyone who has ever tried to buy a gift for someone else—even a best friend or a significant other—knows the headache-inducing challenge of giving someone what they actually want. I pride myself in my gift-giving skills, and even I still tape the receipt to the top of the box “just in case,” because unless you actually are someone else, you don’t really know what they want.
So if we want to attract millennials, we should be giving them a seat at the bargaining table, right? Yes, that would certainly help.
Currently, there are only a handful of millennials whose ideas get taken into consideration on city projects, and most of them belong to a homogenous group that dresses well and attends lots of networking events.
But beyond the need for greater inclusion of millennials in city decisions, the second problem with catering to millennials, specifically, is that this generation is freakishly diverse, especially at this stage in our lifetimes. Some of us are still in school. Some of us are single and want to live it up in the big city. Some of us are getting engaged, and some of us already have four children.
My Facebook newsfeed blows up each day with everything from baby announcements to pictures from last weekend’s college party. So even though we’re all technically in the same generation, we aren’t in the same life-stage at this point in our lives because we’re all still “figuring things out.” We aren’t in school anymore. And we aren’t all settled down yet either (cue Britney Spears “Not a girl, not yet a woman”).
So please, don’t lump us all into one cohesive group, and tell us what we want.
Actually, trying to please all millennials is like trying to please frat bros and their 80-year-old grandmothers at the same time. (Yes, I have friends the same age who demonstrate each archetype).
My point is, while I love the fact that lawmakers are trying to cater to my generation, it’s also not just about us because we don’t really know who “we” are yet. And saying that everything you’re doing is “for us” is just going to piss off older generations who don’t like us, or make younger generations (who are your real future) think you’re already leaving them out.
So don’t plan for millennials. Instead, plan for the visionary future. Because you know what? That’s what millennials want anyway.
As lawmakers and local leaders, we want you to be forward thinking and factual at the same time. Forward thinking without facts is impractical. And facts without forward thinking is the death of progress and innovation.
The need for walkability, sustainability, connectivity, and other “millennial causes” that are actually worth pursuing isn’t based on some fluffy dreamboat idea of a young person’s utopian society. These issues are serious goals that smart societies are going to pursue anyway based on logical projections of current problems and circumstances.
So do your thang. Do your research, and dream big. Just don’t pin your plans on me. Because next week I might dye my hair pink, and the week after that I might change it back.
See? Totally unpredictable.
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