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Young Voices Speak up in Rhinebeck NY

Here is her background according to LinkedIn

Jennifer Breslin has worked over 20 years on Science, Technology, Innovation (STI) and Organizational Learning in the UN System and as the Executive Director of a non-profit she founded focused on building inclusive and socially responsible STEAM. She was responsible for having built or significantly expanded STI portfolios in three UN organizations, most recently in establishing and leading the UN Women Innovation Facility.

As Executive Director of Futuristas, her newest venture, she is working with a range of partners to advance experiential STEAM and futures learning in youth programming and build a science ecosystem that better responds to the needs of all society.

This month, she recruited secondary school students and recent graduates “to consider the future, assess the present and decide how we can build a better Rhinebeck going forward.” She helped initiate a Youth Track (Rhinebeck Youth Voices) as part of Rhinebeck’s Comprehensive Planning Initiative which is updating the Village’s 30-year old comprehensive plan.

They kicked off the Youth Track with a day-long workshop on the past, present and future of Rhinebeck, including a walking tour of the village to assess its current state and stimulate design ideas for the its future. Here is Jennifer’s recap of the workshop –

The kids really liked the exercise of looking at the past, thinking ahead to 2042 (with a quick intro on how one does that - not prediction but scanning + imagination) and then documenting a day in the life of a Rhinebeck teenager in 2042 through sketches on a giant paper roll. These drawings and text call outs were then converted into to “Postcards from the Future.” We showed past postcards of Rhinebeck, and crazy 1800s postcards of future predictions as an illustration of the possibility of imagination, and then created our own from 2042. They understood the value of the futures exercise, and it led to some really interesting discussions after they brainstormed what might/could happen and what they want to happen. The conversation on asteroid mining was unexpectedly instructive. Even though that doesn’t relate to little Rhinebeck, it did raise questions and principles about scarcity of resources, behavior change, “localism” and living within planetary boundaries. Similarly, ideas around the ethical development of future technologies aren’t exactly in the remit of our local government, but we can talk about how we might deploy (or not) technology and we can develop local educational programs that introduce young people to ethics and advocacy around technology. Tying the larger future vision to local action and influence is an important exercise to undertake.

Our results have been shared with the Comp Plan Committee members. We are also going to send them the Postcards from the Future in the mail and put them around town. The mayor invited the youth participants to speak to the Village Board, and the project was mentioned by the mayor and the youth co-lead at a screening last night of “Urbanization” with the filmmaker present :).

The workshop was the first of its kind so like a good futurista, Jennifer is looking ahead to the next time.

When we went out and did the walking assessment and mapping of what the youth want to see in specific locations, their imaginations got a bit too grounded. I was hoping to see some more radical ideas in the mix but as the exercise was somewhat rushed, we didn’t have time to press for this. When we do the next phases of the project, we will work to make sure they hold their future visions as their north star and then try and back-cast from there. The plan is to do a Minecraft challenge which will ask for bold imagining and speculative design (and will have a brief that includes a future thinking exercise). We will also hold “here and now” design sessions and tactical urbanism initiatives focused on concrete problems/opportunities. These will offer the chance to begin the actions that can lead to the realization of their future visions.

So we have momentum and this was all very well received.

I’ll say you do! Thank you for pioneering this great initiative, Jennifer. We look forward to many more great reports.

NOTE: All the materials and results are available on the website. Jennifer can be reached at if you have any questions.



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