A Youthful Perspective on the Built Environment (Guest Post)

A good friend of mine, David Clear, had the rare opportunity today to speak with local youth about public health and our built environment. He agreed to let me adapt his email to share with you all the amazing insight these teenagers gave:

Today I had the honor of speaking at the Public Health Camp put on by the University of Texas Health Science Center’s School of Public Health.  I had a great day interacting with the youth of our San Antonio high schools, particularly those interested in health careers.

One of the questions I posed after our discussion was how many of the youth planned to leave San Antonio and not come back.  The answer was over 50%.  When I asked the reasons for this, I was pretty shocked by the overall answer: the built environment sucks.  When I asked whether they were interested in cars, the overwhelming answer was no.  They mentioned they grew up in the back seat of cars, being shuttled from appointment to appointment or, more often, stuck in traffic.  Another reason cited for not wanting to drive was how expensive it is.  What they are interested in paralleled what national research suggests about our youth: they want safe streets and hip, vibrant communities with places they can get to without a car or dealing with car congestion.

Then I asked, if San Antonio was to do anything to ensure that they would stay in San Antonio after their college years, what would it be?  Their responses are broken down below:

  • Prioritize the city’s budget to reflect quality of life investments such as safe streets and parks
  • Change legislation to require minimum guidelines for safe streets
  • Correct unsafe corners, particularly for bicyclists by improving intersection design
  • Deal more effectively with pedestrian and bicycle barriers such as power poles, overgrown shrubs, etc., particularly at intersections
  • Start to focus downtown and then expand from there
  • Improve bike and transit infrastructure

Overall, these youth expressed that they just want to stay involved in the process.

So, what would be your strategy for getting teenagers and youth better involved in the planning and policy development of our cities? I’d love to read your comments, and I’ll be sure to pass them along to David.


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