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A view of Parkdale's electric older buildings with a TTC Streetcar making a stop to pick up pedestrians. Image Credit: Everett Atlas, 2019
Image Credit: Everett Atlas, 2019

February 11, 2021

Young city builders are already the leaders we need. Here’s what they have to say.

Catching up with the winners of Toronto’s Urban Action Pitch Night.  

Tenacity, integrity, passion and determination. These are the leadership qualities young city builders bring to the table. There’s no shortage of urgent issues to tackle in our cities, and young people are more than ready to dive in and champion change.  

What’s stopping them?  

Young change-makers need resources to put their ideas into action. This is where the Future City Builders program comes in: we connect young people with funding, networks and design-thinking skills to kickstart change across Canada.  

The first cohort of Future City Builders in 2020-2021 recruited 34 youths in Toronto & the GTHA to ideate and design their Healthy City solution. The second cohort, which is currently recruiting, will head to Winnipeg. The third cohort will look at Edmonton later in the year. 

Divided into six teams, the young city builders from the GTHA went head-to-head pitching their solution to a panel of judges in a virtual Urban Action Pitch Night for the chance to win $5,000 in seed funding. Youth participants Cassandra Cipriano, Celina Lucarelli, Haron Qudoosi, Liza Mishko and Maddy Lawrence won the pitch night with their solution: NeighbourGOOD 

The winning pitch 

NeighbourGOOD is a digital service hub that aims to connect individuals to their local community organizations as volunteers and supportersFor organizations, it will provide a database of local volunteers they can mobilize to help meet immediate needs and support advocacy efforts. For residents, it will give them an opportunity to tailor their support based on what’s required: funds, supplies or volunteering their time. All of this while raising awareness, providing purpose and deepening their sense of connection to their own community. 

The winning idea for NeighbourGOOD, of course, took time to put together. Youth participants Celina Lucarelli and Liza Mishko knew at the outset they wanted to bridge the gap between affluent and marginalized groups to address housing and create a healthier city, and they had already formed some specific ideas on how best to do so. 

However, the way that the design thinking process is structured, means you have to continuously confront what you think the solution is and let go of it. Again, and again. You reach your unique, workable solution by breaking down your assumptions, by thinking big picture in innovative ways – a journey which was, admittedly at times, “awkward.” 

Why NeighbourGOOD? 

Many of the team members reside in the neighbourhood Parkdale-High Park; a postal code which contains some of the wealthiest homeowners in the city alongside many people who are unhoused, some of whom are living in encampmentsIt’s an urgent crisis which, of course, has been made far worse by the current pandemic.  

So, they approached the Encampment Support Network as part of their stakeholder engagement. By doing so, they realized very quickly that any housing solution needs to address immediate need but also push for policy change, long-term. 

As Mishko says, “the work isn’t going to end when the pandemic ends.” And the housing crisis will not be solved by community organizations alone. Lucarelli notes that substantive change will come from bringing more affluent, often older, homeowners into the equation. “Until we change their minds,” she says, “we’ll always remain in the system we have now.” 

Enter NeighbourGOOD. By focusing their efforts on engaging older generations of homeowners, the team wants to provide the platform to build a healthier community. After completing a simple survey to answer questions that determine what local organizations need, residents will be matched with an organization to help meet those needs. 

What’s next for the team 

The team is just getting started. Now that they’ve won the seed funding, it’s time to get the ball rolling on next steps for a pilot in Parkdale-High Park – research, marketing and building the platform are all in the works, with Evergreen still available to support.

That’s what makes Future City Builders unique and rewarding, according to the participants. “Having the resources of an organization like Evergreen, and have this run as a program, just kind of makes the process a lot easier. (…) having that guidance is really, really amazing. Just being given an opportunity to continue it and really start something, that has a really great foundation to it,” says Mishko. 

We are excited to see what these young leaders accomplish next! 

Interested in learning more about Future City Builders? Click here for more details on how to participate. 

Future City Builders is an initiative of Future Cities Canada and is presented by Evergreen and generously funded by RBC Foundation.