Just Us in Davis: No town is an island

By July 21, 2011

By Jonathan London

Thanks to Cory Golden’s excellent feature story in The Enterprise on Friday, July 15, many readers will be familiar with Healthy Youth/Healthy Regions, a study that documents how California’s capital region is failing its young people to the great peril of the region as a whole.

This study, which I was fortunate to direct through the UC Davis Center for Regional Change, provides strong evidence that the prosperity and vitality of our region is dependent on the health and well-being of our youths.

And yet, many youths do not have the resources or opportunities they need to be successful. The report also lays out a set of strategic actions that can be taken to ensure the success of our young people and our region.

One theme highlighted in Golden’s article bears additional consideration here: No town, not even Davis, is an island. That is, while by many educational, health, social and economic measures used in the study, young people in Davis are doing quite well, this does not mean we can rest on our laurels. Instead, the study offers several lessons for Davis.

First, Davis is affected by larger regional influences, including the movement of young people in and out of the community as their families follow jobs and housing opportunities; a regional labor market that brings outside workers in and sends Davis commuters out; and regionally planned transportation, water and energy systems.

Therefore, maintaining the renowned “Davis quality of life” requires active engagement in efforts to improve the quality of life in the region as a whole. It is in our enlightened self-interest, for example, to support funding measures for regional community college districts, even if “our children” don’t attend — as these graduates will be the future taxpayers, professionals, jurors, parents, etc., upon whom we will depend for our own well-being.

It is in our interest to meet and even top our regional “fair share” of affordable housing near jobs to ensure that our roads and skies do not suffer the impact of long-range commuter traffic.

Second, with its many resources (human, political, and economic), Davis can make real contributions to the region as a whole. Consider the amazing community mobilization around supporting our schools.

How could some of these parent organizing approaches be shared with residents in other jurisdictions? How could Davis businesses that offer career mentoring to young people from elsewhere in the county and the region, understanding that this is their future labor force, share their methods with other businesses? How could our powerful environmental and agricultural conservation advocates further support environmental protection across the region?

Third, following the study as it delved below the number of educational and health statistics to hear the stories of young people and their adult allies, we can illuminate sides to Davis that many of us don’t see or don’t want to acknowledge.

This means lifting up the voices of youth of color who do not believe their schools support their academic success in their schools; of lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender youths who do not feel safe in their neighborhoods; of undocumented youths or their family members who feel at risk if they speak up; of low-income youths who feel excluded from high-priced clubs or activities.

In this way, Healthy Youth/Healthy Regions affirmed the findings of the multi-year youth-led research conducted by the Catalysts for Social Justice, led and inspired by Dr. Jann Murray-García and colleagues at Davis High School.

While we may wish it were not so, the struggles of thousands of young people around the region as they seek life success are also experienced by many young people in Davis as well. Their story is our story.

So, what is to be done? The study offers a number of ways that leaders in Davis (that is, all of us) can take action to promote youth and regional success.

The place to start is with identifying and building on many strengths in the community: from its deep agricultural roots, dynamic local businesses, highly engaged citizenry, higher education powerhouses, well-designed neighborhoods and parks, and last but certainly not least, the energy, insights and aspirations of our diverse young people themselves.

How might these assets be better aligned toward the common goal of making Davis a fantastic place for all young people to grow up and thrive?

Several promising approaches toward this vision include strengthening the leadership role of young people in the decisions that affect their lives. Ideas such as a youth council with appropriate levels of decision-making authority informing the policies of the city council, the school board and the planning commission could help these entities represent the interests of young people.

Intentional and skillful efforts to engage the most vulnerable young people and those who are often excluded from such public leadership roles should be a priority both to share this opportunity widely, and also to benefit from the unique perspectives of a diversity of young people.

As a final suggestion, Davis could consider developing a “youth budget” that tracks all of the investments made in young people — including funding in education, health, police, parks and recreation and others — to allow for a more comprehensive analysis and allocation of precious resources. Perhaps such a youth budget could be developed on a countywide scale, bringing together our sister communities for even greater impact.

Whatever actions our community takes up informed by this study, we would do well to adapt the traditional saying about tree planting: The best time to invest in youth was 20 years ago; the second best time is now.

Healthy Youth/ Healthy 
Regions was commissioned by Sierra Health Foundation with additional funding from The California Endowment, and 
designed and conducted by the UC Davis Center for Regional Change. For more information, visit http://regionalchange.


Finally, a shout out to the Spare Changer, Davis’ own newsletter about and in many cases, by our community’s homeless residents. The Spare Changer has now gone digital with a new website, writers’ registry and online subscription service. Visit the Spare Changer (http://www.thesparechanger.net) to submit articles or subscribe and to support this crucial voice for the homeless.

— Jonathan London, Ph.D., is a Davis resident and parent. He shares this monthly column with Jann Murray-García. Reach him at [email protected]

Jonathan London

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