FROM A SOARING crime rate to troubled public schools, Philadelphia faces a wide variety of challenges. To confront these problems successfully, elected officials must seek input from a wide variety of perspectives.

On May 15, voters have a chance to help young people have a formal voice in the process. Philadelphians should vote yes on creating a citywide youth commission.

Sponsored by Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown and endorsed unanimously by City Council, this proposal would amend the City Charter to create a body called the Philadelphia Youth Commission.

Its 21 members will be responsible for assessing the impact of public policy on young people and informing elected officials of their findings. It will ensure that the needs of youth are less likely to be overlooked by lawmakers.

It's a very important ballot initiative and should be supported by the voters on Primary Day.

Young people have a unique voice that can help find real solutions to the problems facing Philadelphia. Often, the political process is so dominated by petty concerns that common sense goes out the window. The Youth Commission could provide a breath of fresh air to municipal affairs. A shot of youthful energy might be exactly what Philadelphia's government needs.

Members of the commission will be drawn from young people who are ages 12 to 23. They will be selected from community organizations, student government associations and youth-focused activist groups. Each member of City Council will have one appointment and four will be appointed by the mayor. Young people can also apply directly.

Some might claim that too many young people are apathetic and therefore this commission will be useless. This is not borne out by the facts. Youth are engaged in our communities in a variety of ways.

According to a study from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Engagement, the highest level of volunteerism occurs among people aged 18-25. Many high school and college students across Philadelphia are working to make the city a better place to live. Their voices should be heard by our elected officials.

Another concern is that some young people are not mature enough to wield this kind of political power. I don't necessarily agree with the premise of that argument, but it should not be a concern.

THE PHILADELPHIA Youth Commission will only act in an advisory role.

Members of the commission will not be able to vote on or introduce legislation. Commissioners can only see their ideas turned into legislation if a member of Council sponsors the bill.

Sometimes I think the biggest problem in Philadelphia politics is cynicism.

It seems that too many politicians, pundits and members of the public have come to believe that nothing will ever change.

They believe that our city will always have a soaring murder rate, thousands of people in poverty and crumbling schools. The Philadelphia Youth Commission could be a way to shake things up a bit and provide some new perspectives.

Perhaps, more than all the fancy reforms, Philadelphia needs to rediscover a sense of idealism and hope. We need more imagination in government.

Creating this commission will make certain that lawmakers have access to a unique and important perspective.

Voters should support the proposal on Primary Day and vote to create a Philadelphia Youth Commission. *

Ben Waxman is a student at Juniata College in Huntingdon, Pa. He can be reached at