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Young adult, ask what your city can do for you

Though Joseph A. Curtatone is the second-youngest mayor in Somerville's history, he and his staff seem to be feeling an age gap with the city's young population.

"We don't hear a lot from them," said Michael Lambert, Curtatone's chief of staff.

Unless, of course, it's about parking fines.

"The overwhelming majority have just paid parking tickets," Lambert said. "But we spend a lot of time worrying about them, making sure they're safe, because they're an important component of community."

It's also a big component. According to US Census data from 2000, people age s 20 to 35 make up 41 percent of Somerville's population, though many stay only a short time, while they attend college nearby.

To reach out to these residents, the mayor's office has organized the Young Somerville Advisory Council, the working title of a panel to address issues that hit close to home for that age group.

"Having a young person look at what the city does in a new light; there are ways of doing things we haven't even thought of," said Lambert, who is 32, or eight years younger than his boss. "Really what we're going to be focusing on is 'What would make your life better in Somerville? What can the city do better?' "

That includes anything from bicycle safety to citywide WiFi (wireless network access) to paying parking tickets online, all of which will be discussed when the council holds its first meeting, tentatively scheduled for June 27.

The meetings will be a mixture of brainstorming and mulling over proposed and existing city policies, Lambert said. Members will organize events, research what other cities have done on certain issues, and bring their ideas and findings back to the discussion.

And while Lambert acknowledged this is a pilot run at such a program, he and some of the board members hope the council will be a launching point for involvement of more young residents in local government.

"In Somerville, you have a confluence of people who have lived there for awhile, new immigrants, students, and students who liked the area and decided to move there, and when you have this confluence of different demographics, it's good to reach out to them one by one," said Sean Caron, a 26-year-old Porter Square resident selected to serve on the council. "Quite frankly, I think this is a good step to do that."

Lambert said he envisions the board giving young people a direct pipeline to city government. Not only will they have someone their own age to turn to with questions and concerns, but the board may eventually split into subcommittees, tackling issues like housing, and provide a network for event planning and involvement.

There's even discussion about writing a State of the City address tailored specifically to the 20-to-35 crowd, Lambert said.

And it appears Somerville's young residents are more than willing to offer their thoughts. After the city began calling for applications in March, asking for basic information and two essays, Lambert said, in roughly one month he received 117 candidates for a 25-member board.

"With young people, there's a certain responsibility to be involved civically and engage government, and I don't think we've done that," said Caron, who plans to investigate affordable housing for young professionals. "So some of the responsibility falls on us as well."

And through this council, the city is now all ears.

"We know this age group has a lot to offer," Lambert said. "They're very smart, and have different ways of looking at things. This is creating a new avenue for engagement."

Glenn Yoder can be reached at