ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The millennial train pulled into Albuquerque and the passengers disembarked at City Hall.
A group of 26 young people, part of the Millennial Trains Project, on Friday had a freewheeling discussion with Mayor Richard Berry on a host of issues they were interested in and had adopted for examination.
Among the topics touched upon were inclusivity, equality, education, employment, urban transportation, sanitation, mental health, homelessness, commercialization of research in cities that host a major university or science lab, and more.
What the participants got out of it was “an opportunity to engage with a mayor who is on the front lines of social and economic change in our country, working with a city that in many respects represents the demographic future of our country,” said Patrick Dowd, the CEO of the nonprofit Millennial Trains Project.
The participants, who come from all over the country and the world, shared with Berry their perspectives gained from studying issues and talking to leaders in other cities.
The Millennial Trains Project is a caravan of vintage rail cars “that serve as a mobile innovation campus” and an incubator for ideas. The millennial participants “collaborate with local stakeholders to advance projects that they’re working on, and which touch on a range of defining issues of our time,” said Dowd.
The word millennial is a general description for people who are between the ages of 18 and 30. The participants get on board, so to speak, through crowdfunding support for the projects they want to promote across the country. The cost is about $5,000.
“We designed this to be accessible to almost anyone,” said Dowd. “You don’t need a lot of money to get on this journey, but you do need the social capital,” or at least the willingness to build social capital via crowdfunding.
The 1950s vintage trains are chartered from private owners and coupled to regularly scheduled Amtrak trains. Over the past three years, the Millennial Trains Project has crossed the southern, northern and central United States, and engaged with 20 communities along the way. The trips average about seven days. The current journey has Albuquerque as the fourth of five cities being visited, along with Pittsburgh, Chicago, Kansas City and Los Angeles.
After meeting with the group, Berry said he was impressed by the young people he met and was confident in the next generation of leaders.
“They care deeply, are ambitious and altruistic, but very pragmatic,” he said.
Berry said he will carefully read what the group posts as they travel around the country and “see if they spotted trends that we missed here.” He said he hopes to have a subsequent conversation with them to find out what they think makes Albuquerque unique or different compared to other cities they’ve visited, “what challenges we have here that are being better met in other parts of the country,” and how Albuquerque can help other cities with those social issues where we excel.