By Silas White
The launch of the Sunshine Coast’s Community Plan to Attract, Retain and Engage the Younger Generation happened just over a year ago. And with it came the inception of the associated group VOICE on the Coast, an advocacy network for Generation X and Y that has now developed into a non-profit society.
The credit for sparking this significant social change undeniably goes to the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation and its very first Vital Signs publication in 2009.
When Sunshine Coast Vital Signs indicated very serious challenges for residents aged 18 to 45, highlighted by the region having the second-oldest median age in B.C., the Community Foundation faithfully pursued a mission to “inspire” and “stimulate” by bringing stakeholders together in a collaborative community planning process. The stakeholders formed a task force, engaged members of the younger generation, and eventually presented its community plan to address the problem.
The new community focus on the need to attract, retain and engage young people immediately reframed many other issues in the community including economic development, recreation and post-secondary education.
In the 2011 municipal election, the issues of attracting, retaining and engaging young people took a far more prominent place in the campaign dialogue than it had in the past. And, largely buoyed by younger voters, turnout in both municipalities increased drastically.
The legacy of the community plan is the advocacy group VOICE on the Coast, led by a steering community of seven residents under the age of 40 from diverse backgrounds. The group has carried on many proposed initiatives, including political advocacy for employment, affordable housing and post-secondary expansion; enhanced online community engagement and promotion of entertainment activities; and a commitment to canvassing and providing more information on the state of younger adults for Vital Signs.
Most recently, the group has initiated a strategic planning process of its own that will hatch plans to build a regular two-way communications system between young people and local government.
The median age on the Sunshine Coast may continue to tick upwards, but thanks to the vision and initiative of the Sunshine Coast Community Foundation, the future of the region is looking much brighter.
Silas White is Director at VOICE on the Coast.