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Okay Boomer

February 10, 2022 by admin

Paul Larsen AICP MSARP, Community & Economic Development Director | Brigham City

“Hi.  I’m  Paul and I’m a Boomer.”  “Hi Paul.”  That’s the way I imagine my first meeting starting at Boomers Anonymous.  It goes downhill from there…  Outside, there is a mob demanding to know why I didn’t stop climate change, why I deserve Social Security, and can they borrow my car for the evening.  (Turns out, four of them are my kids.)  My wife, a member of Gen X, just wants to know when I’m going to come home and get started painting the house.

According to Wikipedia (and who would know better, amirite?) “Baby Boomers” are those who were born between 1946 and 1964.  Apparently, the desire to procreate on the part of returning WWII veterans like my dad was so strong that it didn’t subside for nearly 20 years.  In 1963, somebody at an obscure newspaper in Virginia noticed that college enrollments were surging and coined the term that will follow me to my grave.

I learned in 2019 that I’m now at war with something called ‘Generation Z’.  I learned that these are not the zombies popularized in “World War Z”, but rather my youngest son (now a freshman at BYU) and his friends.  According to the New York Times, an idiot in a baseball cap who was alleged to be old said “the millennials and Generation Z have the Peter Pan syndrome, they don’t ever want to grow up”.  (He said this on TikTok, which makes me suspect that he may have been a plant.)  This was the equivalent of Gavrilo Princip assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand and precipitating World War I.  The principal weapon in this war is the t-shirt emblazoned with “OK, Boomer”.  Shannon O’Connor, a combatant who understood how to monetize the conflict through t-shirts and hoodies, says “the older generation [she means me] grew up with a certain mind-set, and we have a different perspective.  A lot of them don’t believe in climate change or don’t believe people can get jobs with dyed hair, and a lot of them are stubborn in that view.  Teenagers just respond, ‘OK, boomer.’  It’s like, we’ll prove you wrong, we’re still going to be successful because the world is changing”.  The Times article identifies “rising inequality, unaffordable college tuition, political polarization exacerbated by the internet, and the climate crisis” as the offenses that drove Gen Z into this war.  Boomers, apparently because we just can’t let it go, have developed their own weapons, principally the term “snowflake”.

So what does all this have to do with planning?  Well, I’m a planner and a bona fide Boomer.  Not only did my generation apparently bring the world to the edge of destruction, but we also embedded Euclidean zoning in the practice of planning, right?  And as we are all now aware, Euclidean zoning was a plot by the Chinese to steal our manufacturing jobs.  Oh, wait – I get my conspiracy theories confused all the time, there are just so many of them.  No, Euclidean zoning was a plot to ensure that housing is unaffordable, people have to drive miles to buy a gallon of milk, and “those people” can’t live next to me.  Guilty as charged.  I grew up in the profession learning that single-family detached homes could not and should not ever be mixed with townhouses, stacked flats, or any other kind of housing, and that commercial uses needed to be far off in the distance with a six-foot block wall along the boundary.  And the hottest corner of hell is reserved for those who would put apartments above ground floor commercial uses.  But here’s a way that I’m hoping we can break down the walls that divide us (see what I did there?) and bring this war to an end.

Robert Moses was a member of the Lost Generation, apparently so named because they hung out with Peter Pan.  Jane Jacobs, like my parents, was part of the Greatest Generation, so named because – well – they were.  Donald Trump is a Boomer.  So is Barack Obama.  (Joe Biden is a member of the Silent Generation, but only by a couple of years.)  Tucker Carlson is a Gen X’er.  So is Jacinda Ardern.  Stephen Miller is a millennial.  So is Ibram X. Kendi.  Kyle Rittenhouse is a member of Generation Z.  So is Greta Thunberg.

By now, you may be saying “OK, Boomer, what’s your point”?  My point is this.  Oversimplification has always been a problem.  Yes, when I was green in the profession, I assumed that the lines on the zoning map were sacred and that only the worst criminal would want to make it possible to walk to a grocery store.  But that didn’t last long because Jane Jacobs.  Jane inspired many people in the planning profession and now enjoys virtual sainthood while Robert Moses has been assigned to the ash heap of history, now a lesson in how not to make a city better.  When we assume that Boomers like me are the problem, we ignore that people like Peter Calthorpe, Andres Duany, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Robert Davis, Donald Shoup, and countless other planners, designers, builders, and others of all generations are actively working on solutions to deliver sustainable and healthy communities.  My favorite t-shirt has a quote by Michelangelo – “I am still learning”.  And if anyone is old, it’s Michelangelo.  So, in the words of Gen X’er Rodney King, “can’t we all just get along”?  It will be a greater world if we can.  And it will be a lot more fun to hang out together.

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