Walking into a room where absolutely everyone is under the age of 45 is no small feat in Sarasota. It's not easy being a millennial resident in a city that's one of the premiere destination spots for retirees. In fact, I'm still staring wide-eyed at the room as a server directs me into a seat at Gecko's Grill and Pub. All around me, people are cradling IPAs and salt-rimmed margaritas. Not bad for a Tuesday.
"We wanted to make sure that the younger voice was being heard," Corinne Tucker, 28, says. "We wanted them to have a voice because they will be the ones living and using transportation here in the next 25 years." Tucker is the Public Involvement Coordinator for Sarasota/Manatee Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). She and Cate MacLean from At Large, Inc. are behind Transform 2045, and the Gecko's get together is another in their series of events to engage the younger set.
MPO is in charge of Sarasota and Manatee's long-range transportation plan, which sets a list of priorities in shaping how transportation operates in our region. In short, the input the MPO receives from residents on what's important to them will directly influence the funding these initiatives will receive in the next 25 years. "When we were hosting our regular meetings or public workshops, we weren't seeing a lot of people under 45," Tucker says. And so Transform 2045 began.
Once a month, millennials arrive to a designated location (last time I went, it was Duffy's Sports Grill) to mingle, enjoy free appetizers and be surveyed on how they want to see transportation change. Not surprisingly, it works. Before I could load my plate with mushroom flatbreads and hummus, I was polled on what my top three priorities are. And in case you're curious, it's more bicycle lanes, comprehensive information on bicycle safety and better public transportation.
But here's the thing about the millennials who do attend: most of them work in local government. It's a self-selecting process, which means that most of the people who are polled are already involved in transportation initiatives in some way. What they need are more people not involved in local government showing up at these meetings. "We're trying to branch out and get a range of people from the private sector and nonprofit organizations," Tucker says. "At Large, Inc. is working on outreach to help spread the word."
Transform 2045 is collecting data for their long-range transportation plan, which will be adopted in November 2020. But even afterwards, Tucker says Transform 2045 will be holding meetings. "Our goal is to have them continue and transcend into a regional voice for young professionals and millennials," Tucker says.
For now, Transform 2045 events will occur once a month. In the meantime, you can take their survey and check Facebook for their next event. You might just see me there.