NextGen Community Conversations

In early December our NextGen Advisory Board hosted an experiment; what happens when you put 50 passionate young people in a room to talk about the growth and change that is impacting their community? The enthusiasm for the conversation was overwhelming.NextGen Advisory Board Members decided that first they needed to have a conversation to understand the themes and patterns in how young people were thinking about these changes. The next step would be providing concrete, actionable ways for people to stay involved in GVLT, with community leaders, and with issues that they care about.

NextGen members invited fifty young professionals from diverse industries and occupations, some born and raised in the Gallatin Valley and others new in the last 6 months, to get together over a beer and a facilitated conversation with strangers about the hot topic du jour, growth. What excited them about the changes happening in the Bozeman area? What made them nervous or concerned about the impacts of growth? What were they hearing from their friends, neighbors, and coworkers? And most importantly, what could GVLT and NextGen do to help them learn more and engage further so their voices are heard? The attendees were split into small groups of 7 and considered these questions with a facilitator.

Lauren Caselli, NextGen’s Chair and inspiration for the Community Conversations event, opened up the evening with a personal story about feeling new after her move to Bozeman and trying to find her place in a town that was changing quickly and pointing fingers at “people like her” who were responsible for the problems caused by growth. It was interesting to hear the ways our conversations about growth, and our tendencies to “otherize” and blame our newcomers, can make people feel unwelcome in a place that is now largely made up of people who have moved here from somewhere else, at some point. She framed the conversation and set the ground rules for how to have a respectful and thoughtful dialogue around a loaded topic. Lauren reminded the crowd that while growth presents challenges, their voices can shape the future of this place. They are the future business owners, Board presidents, elected officials, and homeowners who will not only make the decisions about how we grow, but will inherit the consequences, good and bad.

From the conversation it was clear to NextGen that this kind of dialogue, and a dedicated and productive space to do it, is desperately needed as our community changes. While they’re still working on the next steps, events, education, and offerings to come, distinct themes emerged and rose to the top. So here they are, the highlights. The following points were brought up separately in a majority of the groups.

What excites you about the growth?

  • More culture- restaurants, music, art
  • More diversity, of all kinds
  • Community is thriving instead of shrinking like other Montana towns
  • New employers, higher wages, job security, opportunities for career growth, and entrepreneurial environment
  • More community engagement, people moving here have chosen this place for a reason and want to grow here
  • Opportunity and potential to plan how we grow

What worries you or concerns you most about growth?

  • Housing affordability and exclusivity
  • Sprawl, impacts on open land and walkability/bikability
  • Conflicts and lack of cooperation between the City of Bozeman and Gallatin County
  • Traffic and the lack of transportation planning
  • Community divided, downtown vs. west side
  • NIMBY (not in my backyard) and close the door behind you mentalities, not welcoming to newcomers
  • Lack of planning for how we grow
  • Losing character of community and sense of community

What are you hearing from others?

  • People are worried about change
  • Growth is unsustainable
  • Too expensive, people can’t afford to buy a house
  • Lack of parking
  • Concern over water for people, irrigation, wildlife
  • Trails are overcrowded and abused (dog poop!)

What can we do? How can we keep you informed and engaged?

  • Educate
    • Local Government 101- Where are the City and County geographic boundaries? What are the roles of our elected officials? Who are they? Who manages what public land? What are the current plans and growth policies for the City and County? How and where can we offer our voice and opinion? What opportunities exist for us to show up and engage?
    • GVLT- What is the GVLT long term vision?
    • Welcome Newcomers- Newcomers packet, welcome mat to plug people in
    • Growth- Panels of City and County Commissioners, developers, land use planning experts, City and County planning professionals, other communities who have experienced growth (lessons learned)
  • Dialogue
    • Host conversations and opportunities for sharing with leaders listed above
    • Host tours of conserved land and conversations with landowners
    • Continue to provide spaces for these conversations to happen

Have a different opinion? Want to add your voice to the conversation? Want to stay in the loop about future events? Reach out and let’s talk.