Uncovering JAPA

Long Beach’s Approach to Youth Advocacy in Planning

In the city of Long Beach, California, a coalition of youth of color is paving the way to racial justice and power sharing through participatory planning.

Long Beach, a coastal city, has a 72 percent population of people of color, with 25 percent being immigrants. Notably, its generational gap in racial demographics is stark: less than half of seniors are people of color, whereas a remarkable 86 percent of youth are. This gap affects youth investment, leading to insufficient educational funding and youth advocacy programs.

In "The Invest in Youth Long Beach Coalition" (Journal of American Planning Association, Vol. 89, No. 4), May Lin and R. Varisa Patraporn discuss how a grassroots, youth-led organization has tackled these issues.

A Model for Inclusive Planning

Committed to addressing these disparities, the Long Beach Invest in Youth Coalition (IIY-LB) is a community-based program driving planning representation across generations. Before gaining funding, the coalition conducted door-to-door surveys to gauge public preference for how local funding should be spent and compared these sentiments to the existing city budget. IIY-LB found the public to be in favor of funding youth development over the police but found that many city documents claimed budget deficits were the source of underinvestment in youth.

After further investigation, the coalition concluded that much of the funding was legitimizing disinvestment and instead focusing on the criminalization of youth. After recognizing and drawing attention to these shortcomings, the coalition won $200,000 in funding from the city to begin a youth-led planning process.

Transforming Planning Through Youth Advocacy

To transform the budget planning process to be inclusionary and future-considerate, the IIY-LB followed five steps:

  1. The former practice of blaming budget deficits for disinvestment in youth was transformed into a new system focused on budgeting for holistic youth development over policing.
  2. The former budgetary council was composed of white and affluent members without representation for low-income or younger individuals and families. This was changed through the Youth Ambassador program, which brought in youth from all city council districts so that their voices would play a role in the city budget.
  3. The former public engagement process excluded much of the population, especially those of marginalized groups; youth were able to transform this through a rework of the comprehensive plan to be more inclusive and accessible.
  4. The former city officials typically only considered "likely voters" (white, affluent, older individuals) when drafting legislation and policy, excluding entire demographics. IIY-LB changed this through Integrated Voter Engagement, a tool used to change the electorate to be more representative of Long Beach as a whole.

Last, the program implemented these four methods to encourage the passing of "Measure US," an oil tax increase that would directly fund youth development. Once it passed, the program successfully established a long-term system for legitimate youth co-governance in Long Beach: the Office of Youth Development.

Equity in Action

Since the establishment of this office in 2021, the program has worked to ensure that youth are empowered and heard in local governance, meaning that previously underrepresented or unrepresented youth can play an active and tangible role in future legislation.

This program is a success story in realizing co-governance and advocacy in planning. The Invest in Youth Long Beach Coalition serves as a model for cities around the world to begin involving youth, especially youth of color, in the participatory planning process. Planning must consider the needs of everyone, and empowering the youth of a community to advocate for themselves is a step in the right direction toward an equitable and representative future.

Top image: iStock / Getty Images Plus - Kobus Louw

Isabella Tice is a master's in urban planning program student at Harvard University.

February 15, 2024

By Isabella Tice