Photo by mmmcrafts on Flickr.
Members of the baby boom generation gave immeasurably of themselves to help their children succeed. But when those children want to participate in public policy decisions, at least a few people think the members of Generation X or the Millennials should still be seen and not heard.
Those who want an occasional window into the “get off my lawn” mentality in DC keep an eye on “themail,” a
bi semiweekly e-newsletter from Gary Imhoff and Dorothy Brizill that publishes letters from readers. Yesterday’s edition included a letter entitled, “Is Anyone Asking, Why David Alpert?”:
Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells chose David as a member of their task force on speed camera fines; DDOT Parking Manager Angelo Rao co-hosted a live chat [actually it’s this Thursday] on the outcome of the Parking Think Tanks with David; and Harriet Tregoning joined forces with David to further the benefits of smart growth versus good planning practices.
David’s GGW blog [http://www.greatergreaterwashington.com] is the main link to the Millennials, who the Pew Research Center brand as the “American teens and twenty-somethings currently making the passage into adulthood. Like other generations, they have begun to forge their personality: confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat, and receptive to new ideas and ways of living.”
The city’s decision makers have turned to a blogger to help forge partnerships with this young group of followers, and to lead them in the direction of poor decision making. Gracious streets have become clogged with bike lanes, bus shelters are lit up with advertising, and national parkland is threatened with children’s play equipment. David’s followers, Oboe, Goldfish and Hogwash, to name a few, express themselves by routinely mocking anyone with differing opinions. And, even the City Paper’s Housing Complex newbie, Aaron Wiener, has adopted his predecessor’s disrespectful tone.
The city may awake one day and discover that the Millennials are no longer here. They’ve moved on to the sounds of a different piper, faraway places, and fun and games. They really didn’t care about the future of Washington, they cared about good times and easy living for themselves.
Technically, I am probably not a Millennial, as the cutoff is usually set around 1980 to 1983 and I was born in 1978. But regardless of the definition, you can just substitute “kids these days” for “Millennials” in Karl Jeremy’s letter. I am, regardless, a member of a younger generation of DC residents than the typical reader of themail.
Parks are for children, too
As a few people noted on Twitter, it’s astounding to hear, among a list of complaints, that playground equipment “threatens” our national parkland. There are far too few playgrounds in our federally-controlled local parks, in fact. And if accommodating children is not one of the purposes of parkland, what is?
Yet an attitude has developed that sees our parks as all formal gardens, pieces of sculpture for people to look at (or drive past) but not really experience or enjoy. Perhaps that comes from the decades when many people saw the District as a place only to get away from, or from past National Park Service superintendents who found it easier and cheaper to maintain unused parks.
The historic visions for these parks don’t support this view. The McMillan Commission, which largely defined today’s National Mall, recommended playgrounds by the Washington Monument. Instead, the monument grounds ended up as a barren hilltop, and the area to the south is more a freeway interchange than any kind of common.
Karl Jeremy’s statement suggests that Washington, DC should not be a place for children. For a long time, relatively few families with children stayed in the city. We heard the same sentiment from the man who claimed everyone moves to the suburbs as soon as they can, and stirred former Mayor Tony Williams to retort, “that’s an old movie.” (Perhaps that gentleman was Karl Jeremy, which might be a pseudonym, as Google searches for his name turn up nothing relevant besides themail).
Younger people are not leaving the city
Karl Jeremy writes, “The city may awake one day and discover that the Millennials are no longer here.” This is the key sentence. Karl Jeremy thinks the young people who don’t agree with him on planning and transportation will soon leave, as previous generations largely (but not entirely) did.
That’s not happening. Greater Greater Wife and I plan to stay right here. So do many people we know. Sure, some have bought houses in Bethesda (which is itself urbanizing and changing), but many more have not even though they have a child or two. Many move in search of better schools, but in many of the wealthier neighborhoods and a growing number of other neighborhoods, the schools are good enough. Some more members of my generation will move out over time, but far fewer than in decades past.
Karl Jeremy talks about teens and twenty-somethings, but this might be where his slight misuse of the term “Millennials” is actually relevant, because a lot of the people he’s complaining about are actually in their late 20s and 30s (I am 34). Once, young people right out of college might live in DC for their first jobs on Capitol Hill or in the federal government, but a second cohort, often with law or other graduate degrees, settled outside the District; now, the JDs are staying.
Neighborhood debates over change often do break down at least somewhat along age lines. “Disrespectful” Aaron Wiener wrote from the Babe’s meeting about “a crowd, it must be said, consisting mostly of older white women; one woman—opposed to the project, naturally—was actually knitting throughout the meeting.” (Knitting, by the way, has been picking up many younger adherents as well.)
I don’t want to see a generation war, and lament every time the ridiculous term “war on cars” comes up. Karl Jeremy’s words, though, are pushing a metaphorical war on young people. 1964’s maxim “Don’t trust anyone over 30” has turned into “Don’t trust anyone under 50.”
Baby boomers have contributed enormously to our society (and done some damage as well). Generation X and the Millennials will do the same. We don’t need boomers to step aside and let young people run everything, but we are entitled to the same respect as other adults. Karl Jeremy can disagree about whether Smart Growth (a term and movement created by boomers) is good planning, but not about whether District officials ought to work with younger people.