WALLACE: Youth: get involved

South Kamloops secondary students are excited about a performing-arts centre because it could mean more music.

Kids love the farmers’ market and envision growth via a public market.

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Secwepemc language classes could be taught at a joint Tk’emlups te Secwepemc and City of Kamloops cultural centre.

This is a sample of feedback on city issues from junior council members. The city committee, born of an idea by late city councillor Marg Spina, teaches youth first-hand municipal politics and collects their take on city topics.

That youth voice, however, is rarely heard come decision time.

After a year of covering city hall, I have noticed a lack of youth representation, from school-aged kids to 30-somethings, in council chambers. They don’t show up at meetings, they don’t write letters and they don’t engage in the debate.

This, despite more youth sticking around the city and big ideas — ones that could impact them for years — emerging to improve livability, which has historically driven youngsters down the Coquihalla to the Lower Mainland.

Graduating high school students pondering whether to stay in Kamloops have also been known to leave for Alberta money, East Coast schools and overseas adventures.

The youth brain drain, however, is slowing. Oil prices have led to fewer high-paying jobs in Wild Rose Country, housing prices have crushed big-city dreams and Thompson Rivers University growth has increased opportunity to stay home and go to school.

As more young people call Kamloops home, livability — those nice-to-haves that make someone want to live and stay in a community — has also taken centre stage.

Boasting the great outdoors and pristine sports fields for as far as the eye can see, Kamloops, at least in the eyes of young people, has historically lacked diversity among nightlife, restaurants and entertainment.

That appears to be changing. Street festivals, eclectic eateries and brewpubs are flourishing. Significant projects are taking shape: a performing-arts centre, outdoor skating rink, public market, cultural centre, pedestrian plazas, technology centre, something — disc golf? Nature park? Both? — new at McArthur Island.

While mention of such projects is enough to elicit enthusiasm from youngsters, a survey conducted by the Kamloops Public Market Co-operative suggests a demographic divide.

The survey found older residents were more likely to oppose building a public market in a parking lot at Riverside Park, while younger residents were more likely to be in favour. The older the age group, in fact, the less support. (The eldest group was 76 per cent against, while those ages 18 to 34 were 67 per cent in favour.)

This could be for a number of reasons, including proximity of the proposed location to Heritage House.

One explanation is fixed-income seniors won’t benefit long-term from costly infrastructure.

This can be said for project after project and puts decision-makers in a tricky position.

It can be politically unpopular to support investments that may not come to fruition until after a council term.

Older people also tend to vote more. It’s an uphill battle, made steeper without young people standing up and advocating for the city they want.

Finger pointers will argue some young people do not pay property taxes and therefore should not have a say in how that money is spent.

One junior council member provided a different perspective: “A city’s prosperity depends on the number of people who are willing to live and spend money and contribute to the community. The people who do that are the youth, the people who are deciding whether they want to live somewhere else or live here.”

Youth are, in fact, the taxpayers of tomorrow.

When these projects come to council, will they make their voices heard?

Jessica Wallace covers City Hall for Kamloops This Week. jessica@kamloopsthisweek.com

© Kamloops This Week


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