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Future City Builders' City Leads at Evergreen Brick Works.

January 22, 2019

Youth: City building’s untapped resource

What does a city built for youth look like? Maybe we should ask them.

While we continue to talk about youth being the key to a better future, their perspectives often go unheard. And in many cases, their perspectives aren’t requested in the first place.

Building more equitable, regenerative and prosperous cities requires opening seats at the table for all communities. This includes welcoming perspectives, thoughts and ideas from residents of diverse ages.

Civic classes in Canadian high schools tend to focus on the structure of our political makeup and how to vote.  As a collective, we’ve failed youth by missing the opportunity to prepare them to be active stakeholders in the local decision-making process, to participate in public consultations and demonstrate that their voice has power. 

Some groups are changing that.

YouthfulCities, Urban Minds, CityInclusive and CityHive joined us for the “From Disengaged to Decision Maker” session at the Future Cities Canada Summit last year. Each group outlined the ways they engage youth, empowering them to transform their city.

A takeaway present throughout the speakers’ presentations was that when we design our cities with, and for, the most marginalized communities, everyone benefits.

That doesn’t mean just inviting one youth to the conversation. We always have youth that stand out as leaders, but it’s just as important to ensure that the rest feel welcome in these conversations. One representative of any group does not speak for that community as a whole.

While it's vital our young people lift each other up to amplify each other's perspectives, the responsibility cannot solely rest on their shoulders. Including youth in the city building process requries city builders, organizations and those in power to know how to engage youth in a meaningful way.

During the Summit session, the speakers not only provided an overview of their organizations and the importance of engaging youth, but they also left participants with tools to effectively and meaningfully engage youth in city building. One of the ways to engage youth is to focus on what the value is for them, such as providing work-ready skills, networking opportunities and resume-building activities.

Take Future City Builders, the Future Cities Canada initiative modeled on YouthfulCities’ 30Lab program. This project led in partnership by Evergreen and YouthfulCities, championed by RBC Future Launch, is the perfect way to get youth inspired and engaged in city building in a real, tangible way.

Through labs in five cities – Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Hamilton and Halifax – youth will work together on a project focused on solving an urban resilience problem that falls under a particular area, such as water or housing.

These Future City Builders will get to work on a tangible project, culminating in a pitch night where they could potentially win seed money for their solution.

YouthfulCities running a 30lab think tank.
Image: Courtesy CityHive and YouthfulCities

It’s a great way to encourage more youth to become active in the conversations around how we build our cities, while giving them access to tools and connections to kickstart or further their careers.

We’re thrilled to call Future City Builders a Future Cities Canada initiative, but there are other projects that are actively engaging youth across the country, and they’re all needed if we are to build an equitable, inclusive future.

Here is a highlight of the four organizations that joined us for the Summit:

City Hive in Vancouver acts as a bridge between civic institutions and organizations, and with youth since youth typically are not invited to engage.

CityInclusive, based out of Montreal, works with small and medium-sized cities on youth issues and building smart cities.

YouthfulCities’ Canadian index on cities focused on youth-led research and inspiration for innovation programming.

Urban Minds helps better educate and engage youth in the city-building process through their hands-on programs and annual youth conference.  

Now is the time to ensure our future cities are better for all people. It’s important we build in the capacity for youth to participate in building these cities now, and not just in the years to come.