City of Eugene, Oregon
Climate Resiliency Analyst
Lane County, Oregon
Connecting with Gen Z and underrepresented populations. Sophie McGinley, Assistant Planner for the City of Eugene, OR, and Cody Kleinsmith, Climate Resiliency Analyst with Lane County, OR, joined the podcast to discuss how local governments can engage their entire community. Sophie and Cody shared how they engaged on the topic of middle housing. They talked about how local governments can engage unrepresented populations in their community and especially the Gen Z population.
Host: Kirsten Wyatt
Engaging with a Gen-Z Audience
What are Eugene and Springfield doing to allow ‘missing middle’ housing as required by state law?
Storymap: Students & Middle Housing
Kirsten Wyatt 00:09
Coming to you from Portland, Oregon, this is Gov Love a podcast about local government. Gov Love is produced by ELGL, The Engaging Local Government Leaders network. We engage the brightest minds in local government. I’m Kirsten Wyatt the ELGL co founder and Executive Director, and today I’m joined by Cody Kleinsmith, from the Resource Assistance for Rural Environments, or RARE program, and Sophie McGinley from the city of Eugene, Oregon. Cody, Sophie, welcome to Gov Love.
Sophie McGinley 00:40
Thanks for having us.
Cody Kleinsmith 00:42
Yep, very excited to be here today.
Kirsten Wyatt 00:44
Today, we’re talking with Cody and Sophie about their work with the city of Eugene to reach all and really truly all community members using communications and engagement approaches. You may recognize Cody’s name as the author of this semi-regular, engaging a Gen Z audience on ELGL.org and Sophie is a Traeger award winning local government influencer and a regular contributor to ELGL events. But first let’s get started with a lightning round. So Sophie, you can go first on this one. What is your most controversial non political opinion?
Sophie McGinley 01:20
Peanut Butter doesn’t belong in desserts.
Kirsten Wyatt 01:23
Oh, wow. That was quick. Like right out of the gate, you had that ready to go.
Sophie McGinley 01:27
Oh, yeah, I was ready. I feel strongly.
Kirsten Wyatt 01:30
What about like, like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups?
Sophie McGinley 01:34
That’s like a different kind of peanut butter, that’s like candy peanut butter. And I think that’s okay, but just like Jiff, I don’t know, I feel like it’s not right.
Kirsten Wyatt 01:44
All right, Cody, what is your most controversial non political opinion?
Cody Kleinsmith 01:48
That’s a good one Sophie. Mine, it has actually been a big subject of debate in my group of friends and mine is that a hotdog is a sandwich.
Kirsten Wyatt 01:57
But is a hot dog a taco?
Cody Kleinsmith 02:00
See, is then a taco a sandwich? If we say a hotdog is a taco. There’s this whole debate that we have going about what’s a sandwich and what’s not.
Kirsten Wyatt 02:08
This, that could be a Friday fun question of the day for ELGL to ponder. So I appreciate you bringing that up. All right, next lightning round question. Cody, you can go first on this one. What’s something that your hometown is known for?
Cody Kleinsmith 02:24
Yeah, my hometown is definitely known for Nike. The, the world headquarters is here. And the first time that I flew to the east coast, I was in the Atlanta airport, and I was looking at everyone shoes, and the proportion of Nike shoes to non-Nike shoes blew my mind compared to over here.
Kirsten Wyatt 02:41
Really? Wow. I love that you weren’t even doing deep analysis back then on shoes.
Cody Kleinsmith 02:47
Yeah, I had a lot of eyes on the ground during that trip in the airport.
Kirsten Wyatt 02:52
All right. And Sophie, what is your hometown most famous for?
Sophie McGinley 02:56
I’m from Richmond, Virginia. So I’ll say festivals and my favorite are the watermelon festival and the street art festival. We have a festival for everything.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:05
Nice. I lived in, Kent and I lived in Virginia for four years in the mid 2000s down in Shockoe Bottom.
Sophie McGinley 03:13
Oh cool. That’s so awesome.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:15
Yeah, we lived in a converted tobacco warehouse so it’s, that’s a great community. I didn’t know you were from there.
Sophie McGinley 03:21
Yep, born and raised.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:23
Alright Sophie, what was the first concert that you ever attended?
Sophie McGinley 03:27
I went to The National in downtown Richmond, at a venue called the National.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:31
Nice, that’s that’s a great answer. And Cody, what about you?
Cody Kleinsmith 03:36
Yeah, I went to a Bon Jovi concert with my mom.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:39
Cody Kleinsmith 03:40
When I was probably like eight, and it was up in Olympia and I fell asleep because I was eight.
Kirsten Wyatt 03:47
I mean, I don’t want to age myself but I may have had a massive crush on Jon Bon Jovi as a child, so I appreciate, I appreciate that that was your first concert. Alright, and last lightning round question, Cody, you’re up first. What is the best breakfast food?
Cody Kleinsmith 04:02
This is an easy answer. It’s waffles. I don’t think anything even comes close.
Kirsten Wyatt 04:07
All right. What do you think, Sophie?
Sophie McGinley 04:09
My favorite breakfast food is breakfast burritos. And they’re only made better if they have potatoes.
Kirsten Wyatt 04:16
Nice. Alright, some solid answers to our lightning round. But let’s dive in and get started. First, we’d love to hear more about your backgrounds, your career paths where life has taken you. So Sophie, why don’t you get started?
Sophie McGinley 04:29
Yeah, so I think I credit my career, beginning with my parents divorce and I know that sounds funny, but their joint custody totally led to me being the urban planner that I am today. They, they split up and my mom lived in the sprawling suburbs and my dad lived in the city. So with joint custody, I grew up thinking about built environment and the influence that it had on myself, you know, at my dad’s house, we could ride our bikes to go get a frosty at Wendy’s. And at my mom’s house, there was nowhere we could walk or bike to. And it was really car dependent, we went to a lot of chains. I guess Wendy’s wasn’t a good example, if I’m talking about the difference in chains. But we’d go to all of these locally owned businesses. And I really felt like I could go anywhere possible and had such a connection with the place. And it wasn’t really that, you know, that same case when I was at my mom’s house in the little suburban neighborhood. And that really influenced my college pick, I wanted somewhere that I could live without having to own a car. So ended up coming to the University of Oregon. And that’s where I found planning and I found it in the right place. The planning Public Policy and Management Program at the University of Oregon is so awesome. And the only thing that’s more awesome than that is that it’s located in Eugene and Springfield. So there’s all of these possibilities to get involved. So I started volunteering with a local transportation nonprofit, I coordinated a speaker series for a transportation and livability student group, got some internships with the city of Springfield transportation planning, the city of Eugene’s urban design and city of Eugene public works. Sometimes I did really serious stuff, like editing plans, coordinating events, and attending public hearings. And then other times, I rode a cargo bike around and posted on social media. So I love the impact of local gov, and the possibility of having a variety of tasks to achieve that impact that range from goofy to serious. So, yeah, so I fell in love with the public sector, and naturally started my career with a local private sector planning firm. So there, I compiled and coordinated land use applications, and then switched over to a Council of Governments, which is an entity that served three counties a bit, or, sorry, I switched over to a Council of Governments that served three counties. And I did that job for a little bit before landing my role as an assistant planner, with the city of Eugene community planning and design, which is just a fancy way of saying Long Range Planning.
Kirsten Wyatt 07:22
Wonderful. And so how has your life been impacted by you know, those really early kind of observations of the built environment? Is that something that you find yourself continually doing, like when you travel, when you go to new communities? Or is it like, Is it the same thing as you experienced as a kid, but like, multiplied times 1000 now that you’re actually in the field?
Sophie McGinley 07:44
Oh, that’s a good question. I think I’ve always really paid attention to how a place makes me feel and what makes a city a good city. I was really fortunate to grow up with just an awesome parents, but especially an awesome dad, he really encouraged my love of cities. You know, I was, had the privilege of having birthday trips with my dad. So ever since I was seven, he would ask me and my siblings, to pick anywhere in the in the US or like, you know, Toronto, to go and spend a weekend around our birthday. And I, you know, when I was seven, I chose to go see my grandma. But then things totally evolved and changed, as I discovered, like what made places cool. So I would pick all of these cities that we would just make no plans and plop down for the weekend. And afterwards, I would debrief with my dad and say, What I liked and what I didn’t like, and we would think about where I’d want to go the year after that. And I thought about like, okay, like what made me not like some cities, what made me like some other cities, you know, how do, how are my experiences in all of these places, shaping, you know, where I want to go next. And that just ended up leading to me coming to the U of O and really paying attention to, you know, I guess I realized that nothing is accidental in cities that cities are a great place because of the people that have implemented policies that have shaped them. So it’s not just like, oh, like, you know, one city is great and another city is terrible. Because that’s, you know, there’s something in the water, it’s you know, it’s a series of decisions and people that led to them being how they are and now that’s supercharged, I’m the worst when I travel. My family makes so much fun of me. They’re like, Oh, let me see your vacation pictures and it’s like intersections and building types.
Kirsten Wyatt 09:40
I think a lot of Gov Love listeners are like nodding their heads right now knowingly. I think that’s that’s a trait that that some of them will share with you. One last question before we hear from Cody. What is kind of a sleeper hit city that most people wouldn’t realize is as awesome as you found it to be during the travels?
Sophie McGinley 10:01
Oh, sleeper city. Okay, let me think about this. I was not prepared. There’s so many places I love. And I think the classics are a classic for a reason I would say that Richmond is one of those cities, I never thought it was as cool as after, as I did after I left it. It’s just so awesome and it keeps getting better. No, it has all of this really cool. hstory, there’s also really serious, often traumatizing history and the way that that intersects with just new ways of taking over the built environment like street art you know, like the things we saw with the Robert E. Lee Memorial this past summer. And you know, just a culture that emphasizes recreation around the river and community, it’s a really great place. Other than that, I would say, like seoul was just so awesome. And I didn’t expect it to be.
Kirsten Wyatt 10:59
Wonderful. All right, Cody, tell us about you tell us how you got to where you are today.
Cody Kleinsmith 11:05
Yeah, so my story doesn’t start quite as intentionally as Sophie’s does, because I kind of stumbled into public policy and urban planning. So I went to the University of Oregon, partially because it’s my in state school. And that is where, you know, it was feasible for me to go to. And so when I went there, I, I was also majoring already in the 3PM program, the planning Public Policy and Management Program, but when I first got there, I figured that I was going to focus on the nonprofit management side of that program, which did not end up being the case, my fall term of my freshman year, I took intro to city planning, because that was the intro class that was offered that term, and I absolutely loved it. And then the next term after that, I took intro to nonprofit management. And I was like, this one is not as fun. So I decided from there that I think I was going to be more on the Public Policy and Planning side than it would be on the nonprofit side. So after that, I continued to dive deeper into the program, I didn’t join the same kind of organizations as Sophie did. One of the things that I wish I had done was join more organizations or start organizations that really pertain to my interest. But then, my senior year, I took a class called real world Eugene that is offered that creates partnership opportunities between real Eugene staff and projects and university students in that program. And so I took that class, and it was one of my favorite classes I’ve ever taken, I got to work on the project that eventually developed into my internship with the city of Eugene’s community planning and design division, directly underneath Sophie. So I really stumbled upon just some great opportunities late in my college career that allowed me to be where I am today and take advantage of Sophie and the rest of the team’s knowledge to go forward into the planning world.
Kirsten Wyatt 13:00
That’s wonderful. And, you know, again, I think your story isn’t, I think there are a lot of people who fall into local government. And one of the things that that we try to do at ELGL is introduce the career path as early as we can, because we think a lot of people have that same reaction that you describe, which is, you know, sitting in these intro classes and being like, Oh, my gosh, I can make a career out of this. And so I’m glad that you can share that story with us. We’d love to hear more about the work that the two of you did together as part of Cody’s internship with the city of Eugene.
Sophie McGinley 13:36
Yeah, I can start off and just talk about what I was looking for why this even happened. So when I was a student, when I was a senior in the 3PM program, which is the Planning Public Policy and Management Program at the University, I was in the real world teaching class that Cody was talking about. So I was paired with a city. And that really helped shape why I wanted to go into local government. So when I got the email from the city of Eugene real world liaison, I was like, this would be a really incredible opportunity. We had just kicked off this project that’s implementing landmark, landmark statewide zoning reform and I was designated as the public engagement lead for the project. And it was a lot of things all at once. We had to spread the word about what the bill entailed, we had to get folks involved, and we had to do it all on a timeline. And all of this happened right after the pandemic began. So we had to do it virtually we were really missing a lot of our usual tools that we used. So I knew already that we weren’t going to, you know, the usual processes and tools that we have used before, weren’t reaching everyone. So it was on my list to engage students and other young folks. And I thought, what better way than, what better way to reach students than to have students reach students. So I reached out to the coordinator, asked if I could be the liaison for the real world teaching class, and pitched it as student outreach for what we call the middle housing project. Cody was in that class, and he ended up being on my team, with a group of other fantastic students. And at the end of the term, they had done such great work with a student survey and developing recommendations that I really wanted some students to continue that work. It was just going to be a bonus if they were from the real world class. So Cody ended up applying, which is awesome. Thanks, Cody and he came on as an official intern, which was great because we got to work more directly. And I loved my internship so much that I really wanted this to be something that Cody led. So he might have been frustrated with this at times. But my approach was, you know, to ask him what he thought and how he could drive things and kind of follow along. So we had some main components. One of them was to create a Gen Z story map. A story map is a type of GIS tool that’s able to combine a really technical mapping component with a narrative. So he and another intern created the story map that was specifically written for a Gen Z audience. He also helped coordinate a series of Facebook Live Events. So these events existed to essentially connect this planning project with larger things that we knew that people already cared about. So there was one about zoning, land use zoning and climate, land use zoning and equity, land use zoning and Gen Z, land use zoning and economics, I think I’m missing one. Oh, transportation. So we did land use zoning and climate, social justice, economics, transportation, and Gen Z. I hope we’re able to edit that into something very cohesive. So he put together these Facebook events, which were awesome. He then helped with the huge planning Instagram, which I am sure I will talk about later, he did this really incredible intern takeover. And then was able to find these awesome minute long clips from public meetings to make them exciting and instagrammable. He helped with a Reddit AMA all about the middle housing project. And then after he was done in order to continue the work that he had been doing, he wrote a series of how to guides so that regular crusty old people like myself could continue this awesome Gen Z work. So we really accomplished a lot. And we did it all in 20 weeks. So big, big kudos to Cody.
Kirsten Wyatt 18:24
Wow. And Cody, share with us kind of, from your perspective, you know, some of those projects and, and opportunities that that Sophie shared.
Cody Kleinsmith 18:35
Yeah, I think going into the internship, it was probably my second day, cuz I think my entire first day was taken up with tech support problems. But then my second day, we dove into kind of the work plan because at first we knew I was going to be there for you know, 10 weeks and then extended to 20. But those first 10 weeks were like, Okay, what are we going to do for these 10 weeks? And as Sophie said, she kind of was like, Okay, well, what do you want to do, it’s a big list of things. And we can choose some of these, some of them, you know, she had earmarked and like I would really like for these things to happen. But for the most part, I got to kind of select what things I worked on. I had some GIS experience in the past, just because I’m also a geographer, I was also a geography major at the University of Oregon, which emphasizes GIS systems a lot. And then so I really zoned in on that one. I was more nervous about the Facebook Live Events because I had never really done that kind of event coordination. I’d never had my face the, you know, public eye or my name be public eye or anything like that. So I was a bit more nervous and apprehensive but she really encouraged that one. So we went ahead with that one. I did some you know, the other things were largely just kind of in the day to day work and I found that it was great to you know, be able to shift gears and go from after a public meeting happening like Sophie said, cut down those two minute clips and get them ready to be published or doing some Classroom outreach to different classes at the university and that kind of thing. So being able to mix those smaller tasks in with the bigger projects that we took on was great. And I think Sophie really provided a lot of great support to me, you know, we had our weekly check ins, but then anytime I had any question, because there’s one thing that I’ve learned about the public administration world, it’s that there are probably 2 million acronyms for each city. And, you know, I had to ask all the time, what does this mean, where’s this group? Who should I talk to about this kind of issue? So she was really great at providing that kind of support for me throughout my internship.
Kirsten Wyatt 20:39
That’s great. And if one of you could please just explain for some of our listeners who may not be familiar with the concept of middle housing, and then you know, and especially here in Oregon, the scope of what cities are charged to do in terms of creating more affordable housing options. So if you could give a little bit of background and then maybe also tie in why you knew from the start, it was so important to have student, student engagement and young people engaged in this conversation about middle housing.
Sophie McGinley 21:13
Yeah, so middle housing is any housing that is between what we call single family residential, so single unit detached housing, something you might see in like a typical suburban neighborhood and an apartment complex. The State of Oregon defines middle housing as duplexes, triplexes, fourplexus, townhomes, and cottage clusters, which are a bunch of cottages around a shared open space. And in 2019, the state legislature passed a law that requires large Oregon cities, including Eugene and Springfield, to allow the development of middle housing in all residential areas. So right now, over 80% of our residential land in Eugene doesn’t allow construction of that type of housing, it only allows those single detached units and by June 30, 2022 you’ll be able to build more more housing types of more sizes in more places.
Kirsten Wyatt 22:27
Wonderful, thank you. And why did you think from the start that you wanted to get student voices and and folks who normally don’t engage around local government land use involved in this particular conversation as well as others related to long range planning?
Sophie McGinley 22:45
Yeah, so planning affects everyone, it doesn’t just affect homeowners or people of certain ages or people of certain backgrounds, it affects everyone and especially housing types like middle Housing benefit renters and younger folks. So I knew that I wanted to hear from a variety of voices. Another part of this projects public engagement really focused on equity and looking back at why certain policies existed. So single family only zoning didn’t exist until after world war two and it was really a reaction to it then being illegal to discriminate by someone’s skin color and not allow them to live in certain neighborhoods based off of that so they were like okay if we can’t you know, if we can’t on our face, you know explicitly discriminate against people how else can we keep you know, the quote undesirables out and thus single families zoning was born. And I will promote, there’s a, what I think is a really great run through history of single family zoning, and a little promo for the importance of middle housing on ELGL’s Instagram under the Eugene takeover, where you may see a familiar face. Just pointing there for more resources. So with with this history of single family zoning, and who it has disproportionately harmed in the past, it was really important to involve folks who were renters, involve folks who had various incomes, various educational attainment, to involve BIPOC and really center their voices and to expand the public process so that we created policies that didn’t disproportionately impact anybody. And it really was like a form of redress, I hope with the way that we were approaching our public involvement.
Kirsten Wyatt 24:51
And Cody, how did some of these values around engagement, but then also, you know, kind of considering the historical context of of zoning and and then, you know, this big change that came that’s come about, you know, with, with middle housing and Oregon, how did that align with some of the things you were learning in school or some of the the topics that you had started to think about as a student as you moved into, you know, the internship itself?
Cody Kleinsmith 25:20
Yeah, I think first is just as a young person in Eugene, on, I remember the spring of my freshman year, because we have a live on requirement for the first year at the U of O, so we had to live in the dorms, but then that spring, we had to start looking for housing for the next, you know, two, three years. And I remember hearing at that time, a very scary statistic that the vacancy rate for rental units in Eugene at that time was only 1.2%. So this, these kind of topics and issues that even though Gen Z members of the community might not know how they impact them, they do impact them, because it was, you know, every college student has to deal with that kind of scramble for housing in these neighborhoods. So they, when we talk about these expansive and getting student voices, and other voices that aren’t typically in the room for these discussions, getting them involved, I think really, it’s a lot of our work goes around showing them that these are important topics for them. As far as my perspective, going into the internship, I was really excited to hear about these kinds of things that these things were being prioritized. I think as a students, we get that kind of theory that regular community members might not get, because they don’t have the time to but when you’re a student, and you know, part of your every day is going in and hearing the latest theory from different research institutions, or hearing about all these different statistics, and still actively learning every single day about all these different things that impact the built environment, seeing those actually played out, as opposed to being ignored for the, you know, old hat of what is considered good practice in the field, it’s very exciting to see. I’ll also say that, you know, centering voices of BIPOC individuals and other individuals that aren’t typically part of the engagement process, for whatever reason, seeing that happen in real time is inspiring. And it’s also, you know, it’s a step forward, that may be scary for some people within public administration. But it’s a step forward, that’s necessary to really expand what the built environment fits the needs of. So if you don’t get those voices in the room, they’re never going to know, oh, we need this kind of amenity in this neighborhood versus this one. So it was very inspiring to see.
Kirsten Wyatt 27:46
What I think I’m hearing is that honestly, the first step in making this internship and then this, you know, engagement effort work. It wasn’t just in hiring Cody and getting him involved. But it really was in kind of the the values and ethos of the city of Eugene planning department or organization that really said, you know, this is something that we value. And it strikes me that the experience, the internship experience may not have been as successful. If some of those values you know, that stuff that Sophie shares and Cody that you, you know, reinforce and you saw the organization living hadn’t been in place. Do you think that that’s correct?
Cody Kleinsmith 28:28
I would absolutely say that that is correct. I think there were several times during the internship where I would go to as many meetings as I could to try and absorb information. And there will be several meetings where, you know, we will be having discussions about training seminars, or other types of activities that were nowhere related to the internship, but were related to things that I was learning about in classes, about equity, about community about engaging with, you know, different communities. And those were taken on just by the department in and of itself, they were not, you know, inspired by just Sophie or just me or anything like that those it was part of a larger culture shift or lens shift that the organization was going through that just happened to line up with my internship.
Kirsten Wyatt 29:11
And I think the reason I want to mention that, and I appreciate you talking about it is, you know, for listeners who want to see something similar in their communities, in really doing that kind of real reflection upfront of does this community or does this organization, local government organization, you know, have that, that same kind of sense of purpose and values that drive this type of project? So thinking about the specifics of how you do this work, talk to us about engaging Gen Z and other communities or demographics that traditionally have not interacted with their local government. What were some of the tactics that you use and some of the approaches that you took?
Cody Kleinsmith 29:59
I can open up with this one, I think I’ll speak primarily about Gen Z. But I think the one of the guiding ethos is that came out of the end of the real world class, because at that point, we didn’t know about any work being continued as far as what we had done. So we had these conclusions that we had come to, from our surveys and the discussions we’ve had with students. And one of the guiding messages from that was that there are too many layers of separation or barriers in between younger Gen Z community members, and the staffs that serve them, because so many places are scary or unfamiliar or difficult to even access for these community members that haven’t been in the community for that long or haven’t had their interest piqued yet, by the, you know, local government organization. So a lot of what I tried to focus on was removing those barriers and make things more accessible, you know, so, for example, one thing that I think was really great in the story map that we touched on earlier that we published is that we talked about, you know, we were comparing lot sizes, to what you can now put on that lot before House Bill 2001, the zoning reform was passed and after the zoning reform was passed. And so when me and the other intern who was the same age as me, were looking at these numbers, it was like 5000 square feet, 7000 square feet, we didn’t know what they meant. And we could assume that, you know, many other members of Gen Z wouldn’t know what those numbers really meant, or really looked like. So we tried to compare them to different rooms or buildings on campus, that they may have actually been in, to be able to get a grasp of, Okay, I could have two living units on a lot the size of this room, or three on one the size of this room, and that sort of thing. So I think it’s really about removing those barriers for me.
Kirsten Wyatt 31:55
That’s fascinating. I love that. I love that you did that and put it into a context that that you know, someone maybe who hadn’t been staring at floor plans of houses for years and years, you know, has done themselves, what were some other tactics or techniques that you used?
Sophie McGinley 32:13
I can start off with talking about tactics for other demographics before dipping into Gen Z. And I’ll just do my like big two tips, because I think that could be a podcast episode in itself. So the first one is that, just to be frank, local governments mostly hear from older white people who own their home. So tip number one is actively create space for people who don’t fit that mold. And an example of that is that the city of Eugene for this middle housing project, put together two special panels, one of them worked with a Portland based nonprofit called healthy democracy, to essentially create this microcosm of Eugene, out of a panel of 29 randomly selected individuals. And then because that microcosm reflected a community, Eugene, that is 83% white, and, you know, frankly, white dominant, we paired that with an equity round table that centered BIPOC voices. So actively create space for people who don’t fit the mold of who we are usually hearing from. My second one is that small changes add up, so don’t be afraid to begin. One of the things I realized this last year, just from my lived experience, my mom is an immigrant. And she told me that she didn’t know she was allowed to be involved with government because she wasn’t a citizen until this last year. So use inclusive language, swap citizen for community member, share your pronouns and develop a land acknowledgement. And although this is not going to change the system overnight, it will help make progress and you have to begin somewhere. With Gen Z stuff, I’m not a Gen Z expert. I’m a cusper. I was born in December of 1995. So if I was a little bit later making my entrance into the world, I wouldn’t be Gen Z, but I’d be the oldest Gen Z. So although there’s a lot of fun things about Gen Z, like memes and social medias, I’ll say that it’s not just a fun topic. It’s a call to action. These systems that we work within are perfectly designed to get the results that they get and local gov is not yet designed to hear from everyone. We’re like three generations behind on who we hear from and who controls the narrative. So Gen Z is also part of our community and they’re the future of our workplaces and the government’s and they’re not babies, the oldest Gen Z are three years out of college like they are, they’re people. They’re adults. I’ll say that we failed millennials, and Gen Z is an opportunity to get it right. They’re the most diverse, educated, and have more at stake than any other generation. And they’re suffering the consequences of decisions made by generations in power, with things like student loan debt, housing crisis, and climate change. And we’re not making it easy for them to get involved and help change things. And Cody had a great point that we need to help, we need to help make it interesting for them and pique their interest. And that’s great, because the first step is already done, they already care. We don’t need to make them care. They already care about government policies and how things work. So the problem is not how do we get Gen Z to care about local Gov? The problem is, how do we change and grow to establish a mutually beneficial relationship with a young, smart and caring population? And the last thing I’ll say, is I have a lot of feelings about this. If I were to call up my 10 year old cousin, and ask them if they want to work or get involved in local gov, they’d probably immediately answer No. And I don’t think that that would change if they were 20. But if I were to call them and they were 20, and that I were to ask if they want to make a difference, work in climate change, or in social justice, or work to redress harms done by existing policies, they’d probably enthusiastically say yes, so it’s up to us to make the connection between their values and interests, and local Gov. And it’s totally doable.
Kirsten Wyatt 36:36
I love that. And I want to put in one quick plug, the organization that Sophie was just talking about, Healthy Democracy will be at ELGL 21, ELGL’s annual conference coming up all virtual on September 23, and 24th. We’re also bringing in a group called MASS LBP, who works out of Toronto, and we will be talking exclusively about civic lotteries, or this idea of how you don’t leave citizen participation up to who can volunteer, but you reach out to get that dynamic cross section of your community, similar to what Sophie was referring to. So head over to ELGL21.com to register. Tickets are $80 for individuals and $20 for students. We would love to see you there. If you love talking about issues, like we’re hearing about today from Sophie and Cody, a question that I have about doing this increased level of engagement, I can already hear the cranky, I think you called them crusty, old local government folks who say all we can afford to do or all we have time to do is to host, you know, a public hearing on a Tuesday night at 7pm. What is what is the counter to that? What do we say when government wants to operate like it always has done and not reach out to Gen Z BIPOC voices to get engaged with these important conversations? How do we rebut that?
Cody Kleinsmith 38:02
Yeah, I can hop in here first. So I think when I think about, you know, this tactical way of engaging this, you know, similar to tactical urbanism and making a big change with not a big budget, I think about the cliche answer is to use social media for Gen Z, right? I mean, it is granted, and I will concede this point over and over again, we do use a lot of social media. That being said, do we do we love to read long articles on social media or that kind of thing? Not exactly. So you have to make sure that if you’re going to use that approach, temper it towards what is expected of social media and play to those strengths, and not the strengths of a what would be a newsletter article, because that won’t work. As far as some other strategies that aren’t that cliche answer, I would say, getting young people on staff is probably the biggest impact thing you could do. I’m a big proponent of paying interns, I think it’s important to pay interns. That being said, I think there are a lot of interns that will still jump at very low paying or unpaid opportunities, because of the way of the world right now. That experience is very valuable for them. And if you utilize their expertise efficiently, you can get much more than what you’re paying them out of that their time with your organization. I would also say, this is something that I hope to touch on a lot in some articles for ELGL that making those connections is probably the hardest part of the process, making that initial contact and getting their initial interest sparked, as Sophie said, you know, calling someone up and saying Hey, would you like to have a conversation about local gov, the answer you get is probably going to be no. So making that initial connection is hard. But once you have that connection, keep fertilizing it and growing it until it’s something that you know, you can go back to time after time after time, having this long term relationship with a group of younger people is a great way to continue to get their voices in the room. So seeking out organizations that already exist in your community, whether you have a local college or local community college, high schools, just clubs and sports teams, and that kind of thing, reaching out to those organizations that already exists in our pre existing network, I think is another great way to get engaged with younger community members.
Kirsten Wyatt 40:37
I love it. Sophie, what do you have to add to that list?
Sophie McGinley 40:43
So I would say, yeah, some of the ways to really engage Gen Z, I guess the first step is you have to admit that you have a problem. And you have to get staff to admit that we’re not hearing from everyone. So you can’t just like march in the room and say we need an Instagram account. I mean, you can, I applaud that boldness. But it helps I think, to really start at the beginning and say, all right, like, here’s who we are, here’s who we’re hearing from. These are our existing tools for how we hear from them. And like me, what could we do to add to change? Who are we missing? And how do the people that we’re missing, get involved and get their information and go there? One of my tips is to use plain language, I think that plain language is a superpower. And if you’ve made it this far, you probably know that I use a lot of it. Use it. If you can explain things and get a 16 year old stoked for something, for something municipal, you can get anyone stoked for something municipal. Another thing is be yourself. Local Government is not some strange entity, it is people. So build rapport and trust by practicing and people first approach. And, you know, have somebody on staff that’s able to talk to people in the community, if you’re not that person that can build that rapport, I’m sure you know someone else on staff that can build that rapport. I concur with Cody use social media, I think it can be really trite in this conversation about Gen Z. And it’s trite for a reason, it works. So Instagram, Reddit, and even Tik Tok, you have to evolve with the things that are coming out and reach people where they are, just Facebook is not enough. I think Facebook is still a leap for some municipalities. And it’s it’s not enough, it’s already kind of outdated. And like Cody said, the general population, not just Gen Z doesn’t mainly get their information from PDFs and long articles. So keep your PDF for when they want more in depth information, just make it accessible to Gen Z. And you’ll make it more accessible to everyone if you use things like Instagram graphics and videos and, you know, like 30 second promos for your lovely PDF, and you already know how to explain your job, local government structures, and what’s at stake to your friends and family. You already know how to do that. I know everybody listening that works in local government has made their job sound exciting at a holiday dinner table. So bring that to work. And that’s how you get stuff done.
Kirsten Wyatt 43:26
Well, and the two of you are doing my job for me by giving me a chance to plug another ELGL series. Every Wednesday, join us for a series we’re calling, “Reaching the Broader Social Landscape,” where we are looking beyond tools like Facebook, we’re exploring Reddit, we’re exploring WhatsApp, Tik Tok, next door, all of these tools that are out there that have a dedicated audience and your local government should be using them to reach out, communicate the important issues and policies that are happening in your community. So find the links to RSVP for those online to attend them live. Or they will be available on demand in the ELGL video library. Cody you write in your most recent article on ELGL.org about this incredible importance on following up and following through when you are engaging community members that have historically not been involved in local government. Talk to us about that concept of follow up and follow through and why that is so important for everybody that local government engages with.
Cody Kleinsmith 44:29
Yeah, absolutely. And I think in a few minutes, I’ll let Sophie talk a little bit about her real world experiences as well if she would like to, because I took part of the inspiration from that. But I would say when communities that are typically not involved in the process do get involved because you make special efforts to keep them interested and engaged. When then you talk to them for a few months and then they don’t hear from you again. I think it leaves a very sour taste. in their mouth, I think it comes off as you trying just to, you know, get your quota filled, and then you’re done talking with them, and you don’t need them anymore. And they’re not a valued member of the community. And while that’s usually at least I hope not the case, usually it’s just that you know, other projects are moving forwards or that we don’t have the staff time to devote to keeping in contact with those groups, it still makes them much less likely to continue working with this your organization in the future. So I would just encourage, you know, whether or not you take their, you know, if they’re giving you public feedback, whether you take that feedback and implement it, or whether you can’t, for whatever reason, if it’s not compatible with your project, let them know that. People, you know, need to know that, you know, this project has a scope. And it doesn’t cover everything about the topic area, when we were talking about housing with young adults and college students, the conversation revolved a lot around safety and how they felt, you know, not safe in certain parts of their neighborhoods, or certain parts of town. And unfortunately, that was just beyond our scope of our project, especially for what we were focusing on during the real world Eugene class. And so we had to tell them, you know, we really appreciate those comments, we’ll be sure to pass them along. But this project doesn’t, isn’t looking at things like lighting, or things like access to housing, you know, in certain neighborhoods. So we wanted to make sure, I want to make sure to pass that wisdom along. I’ve you know, make sure you tell people when the input they’re giving is incompatible. And then following up, I would say, is a separate thing from following through, which is just keeping in touch with them in the future. They don’t need to sign up for your newsletter for you for them to have to hear about what’s going on within their public administration office. So you know, I have been out of Eugene for a few months now. And, you know, I still get the newsletters, but it’s definitely hard to keep up with what’s going on, even on the project that I worked on, that I used to know a lot about, simply because, you know, watching three hours a week of planning commission or city council debriefing is a lot for a lot of people. So providing consistent and digestible communication after the fact is also a great way to keep them ready to comment on something when another thing they’re passionate about comes up.
Kirsten Wyatt 47:25
That’s great, thank you. And again, you can reach all of, or you can read all of Cody’s articles on ELGL.org. They are nicely assembled together, if you’re looking for a crash course on how to reach a Gen Z audience for your local government. Sophie, you serve as a volunteer planning Commissioner in the city of Springfield. Can you share with us more about how this experience has helped in your career? And even in your understanding or perspective in your day job with the city of Eugene?
Sophie McGinley 47:54
I love this question because they are so connected. I started my involvement with the City of Springfield as an intern, just like Cody. And to be honest, I was really frustrated with the Planning Commission. Nobody looked like me. There were no women, no renters and no young people. And I realized that instead of waiting for someone representing me to come along, I should just apply if I ever got the chance. And now it’s been three years and I’m the chair of the Commission. So somehow that all worked out. And and some of the things I’ve learned along the way, and I’ve said this before, local gov is just people. So I was so scared my first day as a commissioner and I ended up realizing that staff and other commissioners are really just my neighbors. So that was a big lesson to carry through to my professional career. And then another big realization is that public officials are not experts, right? Maybe I should say not always experts. Sometimes they are., The Springfield Planning Commission and city council and many Planning Commission and City Council’s are volunteers. I’m the only professional planner on the Planning Commission. And while we may have final say on some things and power, you’d be surprised by the level of technical knowledge on commission and council. And to be clear, but not a dig at my fellow public officials. They put in a lot of time and energy and certainly know a lot. I’m just saying this because it’s important that everyday people of all backgrounds know that the qualification for being on something like Planning Commission is to be a person with lived experience that cares about their community and that we need to hear from people. So if you’re hearing this and you don’t work for a city, please get involved with your city because we want to hear from you and the people making the decisions don’t know everything.
Kirsten Wyatt 49:52
I love that so much and it’s such also a reminder that it’s a way to skill build, even if if you’re trying to get more experienced In land use and planning that volunteering at with your locality, which may be different than the one he worked for, is a way to do that as well. So I’m, I’m so glad that you mentioned that.
Sophie McGinley 50:11
Absolutely. And it’s definitely not the only way to get involved. Because we’re volunteers, you know, that excludes a lot of people from being on commissions and councils, people who, like Cody said, don’t have the ability to be at three hours of meetings a week, and, you know, volunteer that time. So, you know, that’s a good reminder that the processes and the structures do need to be reworked. You know, when we ask people to volunteer their time, whether it be for an evening meeting, or for a four year term on a commission, we’re excluding a lot of people by not offering payment. And it’s, yeah, sometimes it’s just not fun, you know, like many Planning Commissions sound like a legal trial, and nobody shows up. And while, we still need to follow legal requirements as local Gov staff, we do need to make it easier and more accessible to hear from people. And we need to hear from them before we get to the public hearing where it sounds like it’s life or death and there’s legal jargon being thrown around everywhere. So it’s been a great reminder of like, okay, somebody like me, who at the time when I was 22, could just walk on to this commission and be my goofy self, you know, that that process can work for for, younger people. But it doesn’t, you know, I’m still, I’m still the only renter on the commission, and I see how processes don’t work for people. And it was just a huge inspiration when I was hired on for the city and asked to put together this public involvement plan, I was able to think, Okay, what do we do so that so that things don’t get to commission? You know, the way that I’ve seen them get to commission and other instances before?
Kirsten Wyatt 50:31
That’s wonderful. Well, thank you. And thank you for your service, too. Because, you know, again, as you mentioned, I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s not just like a walk in the park, you know, and it’s definitely, it takes time and energy, I mean, and we would say thank you to all volunteers, but I think especially to then take that experience and reflect on it in your day job is incredibly powerful for for all of us to learn from.
Sophie McGinley 52:22
Kirsten Wyatt 52:23
I’d love to hear some more approaches that listeners should absolutely, positively not take if they’re trying to diversify their community outreach. What are some tactics that are going to crash and burn no matter what?
Sophie McGinley 52:42
Cody is an expert on this, because he has humbled me as a young millennial trying to reach Gen Z. One of the things that he is really great at, and I was reminded of a lot when I would ask him to make memes is that the worst thing you can do is try to be someone you’re not. I’m picturing that Steve Buscemi meme where he’s like Hello fellow kids, like Don’t be that guy. So Gen Z, you can tell when you’re trying too hard. So that’s a big thing. My second tip is a lot of people in local gov and just like generally from older generations use millennial when they mean Gen Z. That’s a no. Millennials are like in their 30s now, know your audience and use the right term. And my last thing I’ll say before kicking it over to Cody, since he knows way more than I do, is don’t expect them to engage with projects and processes without making changes that make it more accessible for them first, you can’t be like, hey, come to the public hearing on Tuesday, it’s gonna be lit without like, actually explaining how they can be involved and, and making it more exciting and giving them a call to action.
Kirsten Wyatt 54:01
I feel like if you used that approach of saying that a public hearing is going to be lit, you are obligated to use a Steve Buscemi GIF along with it like really? I mean, you can’t you can’t say that and then not like make fun of yourself because that’s ridiculous.
Sophie McGinley 54:16
Stay tuned for my Steve Buscemi lit public hearing Instagram post December 2021.
Kirsten Wyatt 54:22
Can’t wait. Okay, Cody, what? What are some big no no’s in your book?
Cody Kleinsmith 54:28
Yeah, I Sophie touched on a lot of the good ones. I would say the biggest thing is expecting people to come when you bait make little to no effort to change. It’s just not going to work. What Sophie said about Gen Z being able to tell, that is scarily true. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen you know something on social media that’s from you know, and it happens with corporations too, corporations, public agencies, and you know, you can just sniff out Oh, this was made by someone who’s 30 years older than me. And it falls flat oftentimes. Partially because they know it’s not genuine as Sophie said, and partially because it really trivializes the expertise that Gen Z can have. It’s great that Gen Z has a lot of priorities in breaking down barriers and making things accessible and making things less serious. Though at the same time, if you’re trying to talk about climate change, or housing in a neighborhood, or anything that is really a serious issue, you know, don’t trivialize it just for the sake of them, because they want to have these in depth, impactful discussions to and they really care about these issues. So make sure you’re keeping it respectful, while also keeping it a little less necktie. And I would say after that, just keeping those connections going, as we already touched on and making sure that you know, when you have the chance to talk about something that is adjacent to things that you know, Gen Z is, cares a lot about, make sure that you acknowledge what they care about when you’re having that conversation. When I came into this, this project during the class that I took that we’ve referenced a few times and then the internship I’m not really a housing policy type person but I ended up working in housing policy during this term because it relates to so many things that I care about. It relates to the environment, it relates to affordability, and equity. So you know if you ignore those things, they’re really not going to have an interest in your what may seem boring otherwise project.
Kirsten Wyatt 56:42
Right. Before we wrap up I do want to touch on something that I think it’s important for our listeners to reflect on and it’s how do you manage a successful internship? And so I’m really interested in hearing from you Sophie on on managing Cody and then kind of vice versa Cody, the experience of working in an internship you know, working for the first time for a local government and what that looked and felt like especially given that most, a lot of your work was remote correct? And you weren’t you know, sitting side by side you know, as you worked through some of this. So, what tips, techniques, or approaches did you find especially helpful Sophie in managing Cody in these projects? And then on the flip side, Cody, how did you manage up and how did you accomplish all of this work, you know, as a first time local government employee?
Sophie McGinley 57:40
So I love local gov and I want more young people to see that local gov is this viable, fun, important career path that they can take so that was a big thing for me was I wanted to create an experience that taught a young person a lot about how local Gov works. And so I wanted it to be a learning experience and that’s something that the city of Eugene stresses, but then I also really wanted to empower Cody and and give him space to be himself and achieve his own goals. So you know, yes we talked about land use policy and Oregon statewide planning, and we talked about strategies and I edited documents that he sent. I also did an e-introduction with with him and you Kirsten, and and so that was important to me to really connect him and show him how much of an impact he could have. So we did our weekly one on one check-ins and we would, we would talk about work, we would also talk about his goals and what was working and what wasn’t working, and I really tried to give him a lot of autonomy and show him that this could be the launch of this really beautiful, important impactful career. And it’s just such a pleasure that that led to him volunteering with AmeriCorps this year and I just know he’s going to do so awesome. So it was a lot of just like hands off, let him fly and I also tried to be a resource for him. So yes, as a supervisor, I did need to have some deliverables and you know, that just wasn’t as important to me as really, you know, paving this path for for Cody to go down and I look forward to hopefully having other interns fall in love with local Gov throughout their internships and make them you know, make it really evident that the skills that they bring to the table are ones that local gov is sorely lacking. And we need them, we need them to make this career you know, fun and accessible. And you know, exciting for more people like that.
Kirsten Wyatt 59:55
I love it. And Cody, what about anything you’d like to share about Your kind of first experience in a local government organization, things that went really well are things that could be improved on?
Cody Kleinsmith 1:00:07
I think this is something that Sophie and I talked about a lot, especially towards the latter parts of my internship, the best thing that I think Sophie did was she gave me real projects to work on. I wasn’t, you know, pushing paper and just editing documents for grammar or whatever the entire time, I was creating real deliverables that went out to the community, staffing real meetings, presenting real things to teams. So I think that was the most important thing that Sophie did during the internship. And then she provided me great support otherwise. Whenever I had a question, you know, I could ask her, and it wasn’t something that I had to be worried about asking and feeling embarrassed about, she really made the environment, you know, open, and our communication was great. And then I think also there are there were strengths and weaknesses to my internship being remote, you know, I was mostly in touch with Sophie, I didn’t really get to meet the team too much, I would be in meetings with them, and we’d talk but you know, I didn’t really have that social interaction networking that usually get from an in person environment. However, it did allow me to have great flexibility with my schedule, I got to see meetings that normally I would have no ability to go and see because they’re spread out throughout the work day. And I would have to go back and forth between campus and the office and campus in the office. So I think it provided me a lot of great flexibility as well.
Kirsten Wyatt 1:01:29
That’s wonderful. Well, again, I just want to reinforce to our listeners that if you want to embark on an approach to engage a younger demographic, engage people who have not traditionally, people who have traditionally been excluded from local government land use, really follow what the city of Eugene is doing. As Sophia mentioned, there is a story highlight on ELGL’s Instagram where you can learn more about the work that they’ve done, but, but just check out some of the resources available on their website. Check out Cody’s article that appears regularly on ELGL.org. But they really are an organization to model and watch and learn from if you are thinking that you need to step up your engagement game. So with that, I have one last question for both of you. If you could be the Gov Love DJ, what song would you pick as our exit music for this episode? You can either jointly pick a song or you can each pick your own song and we’ll see which one prevails. So Cody, you’re up first.
Cody Kleinsmith 1:02:34
You know I saw this question, and I’ve really been thinking about it a lot. Because you know, I want to make a good pick. So I’m going to go ahead and go because I feel like it’s applicable. I’m gonna choose September by Earth, Wind, and Fire.
Kirsten Wyatt 1:02:49
Oh, very good. Okay. All right, because well, yeah, today is September 7th.
Cody Kleinsmith 1:02:55
Right. It’s not quite the 21st.
Kirsten Wyatt 1:02:58
But we’re getting there. Alright, Sophie, what’s your pick?
Sophie McGinley 1:03:04
I was going to pick Jeffrey Bezos by Bo Burnham. It’s constantly stuck in my head.
Kirsten Wyatt 1:03:12
I mean, it really is one of the best Tik Tok songs right now as well, especially the Amazon trucks like doing illegal parking maneuvers. I appreciate those.
Sophie McGinley 1:03:22
Absolutely, works for everything.
Kirsten Wyatt 1:03:25
All right. Well, Sophie, Cody, thank you so much for joining us on Gov Love today.
Cody Kleinsmith 1:03:30
Yeah, thank you for having us.
Sophie McGinley 1:03:32
Thank you, Kirsten. And thank you ELGL for really empowering this work that we’re doing and connecting us with other people to talk to you about it.
Kirsten Wyatt 1:03:41
Wonderful. Well, Gov Love is produced by a rotating cast of ELGL volunteers. A reminder that the all virtual ELGL conferences on September 23rd and 24th. Tickets are $80 for individuals and $20 for students, and we are mailing out swag boxes, so don’t delay. If you buy your ticket today, you can get a new pair of ELGL socks, we have a ring light for your laptop, we have stickers galore. It really is a great swag box on top of a great conference. So please make sure you sign up. We also have a unique networking lineup planned. One of the things we’re doing is you will receive in the mail a craft kit to create your own live, work, and play cross stitch. You also can sign up for a cocktail/mocktail making course and some other opportunities to get to know folks while you’re doing some local government learning. ELGL is the Engaging Local Government Leaders network. You can reach us at ELGL.org/GovLove or on Twitter at @GovLovePodcast. Thank you for listening. This has been Gov Love, a podcast about local government.