Christine Schilke is the Communications Manager for the Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC).
Even before I took the stage to present a millennial perspective on what young people are seeking in their communities during a recent UConn/DOT forum on building livability in Connecticut, I was impressed.
I wasn’t surprised to see the many representatives from UConn both in the audience and at the podium. Through my position at the Connecticut Main Street Center, I’ve had several opportunities to interact with the school on the issue of linking higher education institutions with our downtowns and Main Streets. Knowing they were interested in discussing innovative approaches to todays’ transportation challenges in the context of livable communities seemed a natural fit for the School of Engineering.
Rather, I was struck – yet again – by the zeal, affability and above all, acknowledgement of Dept. of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker that Connecticut needs to – and more importantly will do – a better job of responding to the public’s desire for more and improved transit.
As a representative of Young Energetic Solutions (YES), a statewide steering committee dedicated to empowering young people to create vibrant communities, I was ready to tell the crowd this very point: that today’s young adults want walkable communities full of interesting amenities, close to jobs and entertainment opportunities. Hearing the Commissioner give voice to my concerns, in an open and frank way, was a breath of fresh air. Although I’ve heard him echo this sentiment before, it still struck me as so refreshing, especially when he talked about the state’s new Let’s Go CT! initiative.
Commissioner Redeker’s words filled me with hope and confidence in Connecticut’s transit future. Listening to him talk about the state’s massive new investment and 30-year plan, including a $10 billion dollar ramp up over the next five years, mentioning things like urban walking trails, walkable communities, expanding the CTfastrak bus lines and more was, frankly, invigorating.
This investment is critical to helping attract and retain millennials – a demographic desperately needed in rapidly aging Connecticut. Millennials are already in a tough situation – they’re better educated, yet earning less than their counterparts in 1990. And while 28% of millennials (who are now a smaller share of Connecticut’s population) hold bachelor’s degrees compared to 24% in 1990, only 67% are employed, compared to 74% two decades ago. Those who are working earn an average $40,849, versus $46,569 by their predecessors. Today’s millennials are also burdened with college debt, and are less likely to be married, live alone or drive. Adding to these challenges is the fact that Connecticut has some of the highest homeownership and rental costs in the nation (6th and 8th most expensive, respectively), creating a tough living environment for today’s young adults.
Hearing Commissioner Redeker talk about Let’s Go CT! and the opportunity for better connectivity, more appealing communities, and the potential for reduced transit costs was music to my ears. By investing in a long-range transportation plan, we’re building on the momentum created with CTfastrak. Like CTfastrak, the long-range transportation plan has the potential to help a lot of people, not just young people, and it’s an initiative I can get on board with.