An open letter to Lexington’s leaders from the next generation
by Carson Morris
“How do we build a city the next generation will be homesick for?”
- Rebecca Ryan (via Tom Eblen)
Dear Leaders of Lexington,
As you return to Lexington from your trip to Madison, Wisconsin, flush with ideas and possibility in the wake of your visit, I wanted to let you know that we stand ready to help make Lexington better.
While 260 of you were experiencing Madison directly, several hundred of us were following your visit in near-real-time, thanks to those few of you who shared the event using Twitter. And while you were talking with Madison, we were actively talking about you, Madison, Lexington, and our future. We had a vibrant discussion.
And when I saw Rebecca Ryan’s question, I hoped that you really took it to heart. Because it means everything when I decide whether to stay in Lexington or not. And it should inform every decision you make about our city: How do you build a city I will be homesick for?
Making me and my generation homesick won’t really be about “stuff” and status. I know many of you were talking about tangible things - jobs, industries, neighborhoods, amenities, buildings, bike trails. But that isn’t really what we value. Those things don’t really make us want to stay here. Making UK a top 20 research institution? That may be great for attracting companies to Lexington, but I don’t see how that keeps me here.
If you want me to be homesick, you’ll have to connect with my heart. Then, when I leave, Lexington will tug on my heart. It will call to me. Lexington will be the one place on earth I want to be.
How do you create a Lexington for my generation? How do you make us homesick for Lexington? As you settle back into your regular routines, I wanted to help you set an agenda to implement the lessons of Madison for me and my generation. Here are a few of my ideas. I’m sure my friends will have many more:
1. Listen to us. For years, we’ve listened as you tell us what our generation wants and needs. And then we leave town to go to school or to find a job. And those other places seem built for us, so we never come back.
Too many times, your tuners are set to “broadcast” instead of “receive”. As leaders, you are used to being listened to. We understand that. But I and my generation need to be heard. And we need to know that you hear us.
The Madison experience was a great case in point. For months now, our generation has been urging you to adopt Twitter (and other social media platforms) to talk with us. In Madison, a few of you suddenly began using Twitter. While we appreciate your new openness, we also wonder why you didn’t grant us the same credibility as those you talked with in Madison.
If you want us to stay, you must listen to us more.
2. Engage us. At one point yesterday, Mayor Newberry declared that “I don’t think there has been a time in Lexington’s history where we’ve had the level of civic engagement we have now… Lexington needs your engagement in our community now.”
This is a profound and true statement from our mayor. We do need your engagement (including you, Mr. Mayor). Now.
We’re already having conversations about the future of our city. We’re already saying what matters to us. We’re already talking about leaving.
In order to engage us, don’t wait for us to find you: you need to come to where we are and join our ongoing conversations. Follow us on Twitter. Spend time in our schools. Read and comment on our blogs. Share your thoughts and what you think about ours. Debate with us. Ask us what you can do. Then do it. Build on our ideas. (P.S. We have a LOT of ideas.)
If you want us to stay, you must engage us more.
3. Value us. As community leaders, you have so many opportunities to keep us in Lexington. One of the biggest: demonstrate how much you value our talent and our intellect and our creativity.
When I get to high school, hire me as a summer intern. Let me work on special and important projects. Encourage me to engage my friends in the efforts to grow your organizations.
While I’m in college, toss me the keys and give me the opportunity to create something you might never imagine. Will I stumble? Absolutely. Could you lose money? Possibly. But - if I’m successful - we both will profit. And, either way, knowing that you value me will make me incredibly loyal - to you and to our city.
When I graduate and get a job, ask me what kind of places I want to live in. What I want to do after hours. What kind of neighborhood I want. What is important to me. Then - and this is the vital part - go build it for me. It will benefit us both.
(P.S. Also do these things for your current generation of citizens and employees. Then stand back. Your success will blow you away. It might keep some of the current generation in Lexington, too.)
If you want us to stay, you must value us more.
4. Respect us. Listening. Engaging. Valuing. It is all about showing fundamental human respect for us and our viewpoints. If you demonstrate that kind of respect in your actions and in your attitudes, several wonderful things will begin to happen.
First, the right kinds of “stuff” - jobs, buildings, neighborhoods, amenities - will begin to emerge to tug on our hearts. Our community - and our love for our community - will become much more vibrant.
Second, our economy will begin to flourish. Giving us a platform to express and implement our ideas will help create the idea-rich economy that you learned about in Madison. Having our voices and views incorporated into the community’s future gives us a stake in making that future happen.
Third, our brand will improve. As Daddy has mentioned previously, you don’t get to decide our brand. Blue horses or spotted yaks are irrelevant to whether I choose to love my city and to whether I choose to stay in Lexington. A better brand emerges from being a better city. And that starts with respecting your citizens and employees.
If you want to build a better Lexington - the kind of Lexington you are envisioning upon your return from Madison - you must listen to us. You must engage us. You must value us. You must openly and actively demonstrate your respect for us.
Then, you will have built a city that my generation will be homesick for. That could be your legacy. We’re already here. And we want to engage you. We want to help you succeed. Join us.
Carson Tate Morris
2 years, 5 months old
Citizen, Future Voter, and Superstar