Group seeks to refill city’s planning panels with younger faces

The City's planning commissions could be in store for a youthful, new look.

That’s because its seats might soon be filled with the fresh faces of aspiring urban planners under the age of 40.

At least that’s the plan according to the folks who run The City's public policy advocacy at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association.

The organization recently launched its Young Urbanists series, a campaign that targets The City’s younger half of urban dwellers.
“What we’re trying to do is create a pathway for young people who love cities and who love San Francisco and want to step up to the next level of civic leadership,” said Gabriel Metcalf, SPUR’s executive director.

The first of four events took place on April 3. Titled “Fashion in the City,” it had San Francisco's fashion set rubbing shoulders with its civic-minded neighbors swilling wine while mulling over city policy, urban renewal, and of course, fashion.

Solely marketed via e-mails and the Internet, the event drew more than 100 “young” folks to the City Club of San Francisco, where the event was held, with several in attendance considering taking the next step and joining SPUR.

“I think San Francisco is dying for change, and the city is on the verge of trying new things,” 29-year-old Paul Miller said. “There’s just sort of a changing of the guard and a need for new people to come up and step up to the plate.”

Not unlike similar efforts by various arts and cultural institutions, that have, in recent years, had to work to replace an aging membership, SPUR sees Young Urbanists as a way to further engage not only its younger audience, but The City’s primary demographic.

The median age of San Franciscans is 36 years old, according to the Association of Bay Area Governments.

Most young folks living in The City stay on the fringes of city government and planning, only coming out to back candidates during election season, SPUR board member Gwyneth Borden said.

“We also want young people to think about San Francisco as a city that is their home, not just where they live when they're young,” she said.

Metcalf said he hoped to see future urbanists debating topics such as new housing, late-night entertainment, and the state of The City’s public schools. Future events include conversations on food, art and film.

And while the connection between The City’s vibrant cultural offerings and urban planning might not be immediate, SPUR board member Gia Daniller said the two areas must work in unison in order to continually flourish.

“Our hope is to show people that if you love cities, to be able to maintain a certain quality of life takes work,” Daniller said.

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