Downtown View: Young Adults Invest in City

This is what older adults think of the newly minted adults—20 to early 30s—living on their block:

They have loud parties. They drink too much. They put their trash out at any old time and don’t bag it properly. They have too many dogs, and they don’t pick up the you-know-what. They don’t care about the neighborhood because they’re here temporarily—only until they get a new job or find a mate and decamp to the burbs when they think about having children.

So who wants such troublesome people living in Boston? Actually, we all do—if they are the kind of young adult who gets accepted to Boston’s ONEin3 Council.

Realizing that the age group between 20 and 34 years old comprised about one-third of Boston’s population, Mayor Menino started ONEin3 as an advisory group in 2004. Those who are accepted to the council meet one another and learn about the city, its many activities for young people, the various neighborhoods and work and family life in those neighborhoods. If they choose later to take a leadership role in the city, they have a leg up in knowledge and experience in negotiating civic affairs. A good example is city Councillor Tito Jackson who is an alumnus of ONEin3.

This year 37 members from 20 Boston neighborhoods started their year’s service about six weeks ago. The city bills ONEin3 as a group that helps Boston be the best place it can be for that age group.

But the participants I spoke to said it was more than that. It expanded their world, introduced them to current and future leaders, and enabled them to make a unique contribution—different from serving on other boards or volunteering at other organizations.

Senam Kumahia, 30, who lives in the Back Bay, applied because he wanted to meet like-minded young people. He works as a consultant connecting real estate companies with suppliers and service businesses owned by women and minorities.

Shea Coakley, also 30, is enthused about ONEin3 because it builds bridges. “It brings together different groups that might not bump into one another,” he said.

Coakley, a Charlestown resident, is an entrepreneur who started LeanBox, a healthy, fresh meal delivery service for smaller companies that don’t provide a cafeteria for their workers.

He said through ONEin3 he has met people in his age group who work in the arts, non-profits and other industries he has not been involved in. He and Kumahia both said they have especially liked the evenings when everyone gathers at a restaurant in a specific neighborhood when ONEin3 residents of that neighborhood explain to the others what it is like to live there. Next month they will gather in West Roxbury.

“It’s not networking,” said Coakley. “It’s community building.”

In addition to the monthly introduction to different neighborhoods, ONEin3 members meet city officials and participate in volunteer projects such as last year’s art installation outside the Boston Public Library in which residents and visitors wrote in up to five words what Boston meant to them. Last year they also invested time in such efforts as collecting 600 warm coats for those who need them.

Coakley is one of four ONEin3 members to participate for the second year to provide extra leadership and continuity for the group.

This is Kumahia’s first year. He said he has been most impressed with the energy in the group and the support members give one another at events and efforts they are involved in. “There is excitement around the program,” he explained. “People are coming up with good ideas, and they’re fired up.”

Although 82 percent of Boston’s young adult population has never been married, both Kumahia and Coakley are. So that brings up the next question: do they intend to stay in the city and raise a family here?

Both men say yes. Coakley pointed out that he and his wife are expecting a baby, and Charlestown is filled with strollers, mother-to-be yoga classes, and schools, so he and his wife feel right at home.

I hope they do stay. I hope all of the ONEin3 Council members stay in the city. We need engaged, civic-minded residents who know one another’s neighborhoods and one another’s industries and professions.

            I wish such a council had been in existence when I was in that age group. It would have saved me time and frustration in learning how to negotiate city government and in forming alliances with people in other neighborhoods. The connections among neighborhoods is an antidote to the tribalism that has infected and degraded the city for too long. Menino, to his credit, did not participate in tribal Boston. He recognized that it’s a new world order out there. The ONEin3 Council members are the leaders of that order.

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