Although they may text while they drive, I think the next generation of young people has greater wisdom than we do. I came to this conclusion after listening to futurist author of Live First, Work Second and social economist extraordinaire Rebecca Ryan. Ryan spoke at the Downtown Sacramento Partnership breakfast earlier this month, where she explained how communities could attract the best and the brightest of the new generation.
According to Ryan, young people look for a city with great nightspots, affordable housing and green spaces. Then they are willing to make sacrifices, including taking a lower-paying job, to stay there. So if a community wants to attract the next generation, it needs to be a great place to live. This makes sense to me. If you are young, making a good wage, but living in a boring unattractive city, what’s the point?
What about our fair city? What if we could wave a magic wand and improve on Sacramento? Imagine that we had schools with great art and music programs, well-paved roads and clean air, hundreds of free concerts, bike lanes and trees all over town, public transportation that got you everywhere you needed to go, housing for the homeless, programs for seniors and a vibrant downtown full of night life.
You may be asking, “What’s the catch?” The catch: You give up 5 percent of your income. If you live in an average Sacramento household, you’re bringing in $60,000 a year. In order to live in the new and improved Sacramento, would you be willing to make only $57,000? What would you choose?
I think most of us would choose the new and improved city. We have roughly 1 million households in the greater Sacramento area. If each household contributed 5 percent of their income, that would be $3 billion. If businesses contributed another billion, we would have $4 billion to put toward improving our city. This money would go a long way toward fixing current government deficits and creating a great city.
Perhaps we could not accomplish every single one of these improvements. But many of these changes would save money over the long run. If we improved schools and offered better after-school programs, it would reduce the dropout rate, which would help to reduce crime and the costs associated with crime. If we increased arts funding, we would see more tourists and their dollars. If we increased transit funding, over time we would see increased density, improved air quality and a more vibrant urban setting. The list goes on and on.
The next generation has got it right: Where you live matters. And they’re willing to take a pay cut to live in a better place. Maybe the rest of us should follow their example and consider doing the same, to help preserve and improve upon the community we live in.