Skip to main content
Affordable Housing , Community Development , Reports and Publications

IForum-Young Professionals Vested in Our Communities

16 April 2012

The Lyceum was packed with a younger-than-usual crowd for an April 13th IForum that focused on reshaping Connecticut’s cities and towns into communities that can attract and retain young professionals. The IForum – Connecticut’s Young Professionals: Can Communities Keep and Attract Them? – highlighted the characteristics that younger people crave in communities and discussed the governance structures and public/private initiatives that could be used to tap into the great potential young people offer. Audience members shared their optimism about Connecticut’s cities and town centers becoming more sustainable and attractive places to live and offered ways that we can continue to engage young professionals in the continual work of building the communities in which they want to live.

If you are having trouble viewing the slide show, click here.

Keynote speaker Dr. Kathryn Foster – a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution and a senior fellow and immediate past president of the Regional Institute of the State University of New York at Buffalo – offered her expertise on how governments can work to support the multitude of placemaking activities that must be carried out at the local and state levels.  Her insights included:

  • People in their 20s and early-30’s move more than any other age group.  Attracting them before they settle and have kids is key to keeping them for future decades.
  • Young people are attracted by coolness and aesthetics, but typically after basic needs like housing, jobs and transit are in place. For those that are or become parents, good public schools are a main priority.
  • Different situations/problems happen at different scales (local, state, federal), and across policy issues. Young people are highly networked and comfortable with making those connections and crossing boundaries crossing, which allows one to work on solutions at the same scale as the problem.

A panel of young people offered their insights on what they and their peers look for in a community.  The panel was moderated by Julie Daly of Hartford Young Professionals and Entrepreneurs (HYPE) based at the MetroHartford Alliance, and included Thomas (TJ) Clynch of Civic Mind and Downtown Yoga in Hartford; Nathan Fox, a student at UConn School of Social Work; Nichole Guerra, advocacy and public relations consultant; and Anika Singh Lemar, a land use attorney at Wiggin and Dana.

  • Young people want to help build communities into stronger, more resilient places.  They’re most likely to be engaged when organizations and governments collaborate with them in a way that invites everyone to shape the outcome.
  • Young people at the beginning of their career and/or civic life often aren’t told the best way to break into a company, community, organizations, or civic participation. Mentoring, peer support, and help with networking can smooth the process of establishing a career, and that success makes the young adult far more likely to stay in that community.
  • Housing affordability and a lower property tax burden are critical to attracting young people and others to live in cities.
  • Many young people want a more aesthetically interesting and compact live/work environment that is not car oriented. The high cost of owning a car is prohibitive on the modest salary a young person earns.

The focus of the IForum’s final panel was “How To Tap the Potential”, with representatives of local government, developers and the business community, including: Pam Butterfield of Business Success Tools, LLC (human resources consulting); Oz Griebel of MetroHartford Alliance; David Panagore from the City of Hartford; and Brandon Palanker of Renaissance Downtowns, LLC. The panel was moderated by Kip Bergstrom, Deputy Commissioner of the CT Dept. of Economic & Community Development (DECD). A few of the interesting points to emerge from the panel’s discussion include:

  • Government can’t do it all and community participation is crucial to creating more interesting places. We should tap into young professionals, as they may have the time and interest to contribute to community matters. 
  • Top down planning doesn’t work. Front-end planning processes that actively engage and mediate the differing priorities of community members are essential. Crowdsourcing (ex., Bristol Rising) is one way to engage community members who typically don’t participate in traditional planning meetings.
  • Many businesses often forget to plan for the retirement of Baby Boomers and are not prepared for culture changes that may result. 

Materials from the forum:

To sign on to "A New American Dream", click here

For more information, contact Shelby Mertes, Chief Policy Analyst, Partnership for Strong Communities –, 860-244-0066.

For more about the 2012 IForums series, click here