“What attributes do you want your city to possess in 2025?”
As the share of the global population living in cities soars beyond 50%, answering this question is central for sustainable development. It is also central to Warren Evans, Senior Advisor at the World Bank, who is leading a study on what role the World Bank should play in sustainable development in 2025. But he agreed with us that it’s a question too often posed to senior decision makers. To instead find out what youth want their cities to look like – after all, they will be the ones in charge by then – Julianne and I ran a series of participatory workshops with professional and low-income youth, aged 15 to 30, to solicit their responses. We held at least three workshops in each of the four cities we visited – Tokyo, Manila, Bangkok, and Washington DC – with 10-20 participants per session. The workshops were comprised of three activities:
- Describe your city: in a word. Participants shared a word or a phrase defining where they were from.
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- Visualize your city: A game. In the game, participants worked in pairs to answer four questions:
a. What attributes do I want my city to possess in 2025?
b. What actions can be taken to implement this vision?
c. What barriers stand in the way of this vision?
d. What can I do to implement this vision for my city?
Pairs would answer the first question, then pass their paper to another pair, who would then answer question 2 (actions to be taken) based on the previous group’s response to question 1 (desired attributes). After all four questions were answered, lively discussion ensued.
- Picture your city: A photo competition. We invited youth to submit up to three photos of theirs depicting their cities. In low-income workshops, we distributed disposable cameras to participants.
Three truths struck us. First, the youth with whom we met spoke eloquently and clearly about their cities and were empowered to affect change in their communities. While in general many found it easier to come up with barriers to the actions proposed, in a low-income youth workshop in Manila, the participants came up with more individual actions than barriers to create the cities they desired. Two, youth experiences in the same city can differ radically. Young professionals in Washington DC pictured a city with better mobility; low-income youth in DC wanted a city with less gun violence. Young men in Tokyo wanted a more decentralized city; young women there wanted a city that could give them a better work-life balance. While the diversity of experiences challenges a simple summary of our results, nine attributes turned out to be most important to youth across the cities.
Youth want their cities to practice sustainable consumption, to give its citizens mobility, to be liveable, to provide its citizens with basic needs and oppotunities, to exhibit high levels of human capital, to be safe, to not be polluted, to have good governance, and to be resilient. The figure above shows the frequency – illustrated by the size of the bubbles, and the percentages shown within them – with which these nine attributes were raised as important during the workshops, for each city. Though there are important differences between the important attributes in each city – poverty and access to basic needs and opportunities were cited as the most important attributes in Manila and in DC, but were not of urgent importance in Tokyo and Bangkok – all nine of the attributes were important across the cities.
Thirdly, the photographs reveal a nuanced, critical, but optimistic view of participants’ home cities. A panel of fourteen judges – professional photographers, urban specialists and development professionals – had a hard time selecting among the excellent submissions (you can find all of the photos here) but finally selected 5 photographs, and we share them below. Congratulations to John Edward Amaga (Manila), E.J. Barbosa (Manila) Ryan Empino (Manila), Christine Gotiac (Manila) and Melanie Wynn (Washington DC)! All of the submitted photos – and there are many excellent photographs that did not make it to the top five – can be viewed here.
EJ Barbosa: "Poverty doesn't sound new or let's say sounds like pain in anyone's chest. Big percent of people living in the community of our beloved country... my country... grew up being poor. They live in it and unfortunately die on it. Still they try to cope up... get themselves out of it. But until when this will be their reality?"
John Edward Amaga: "Children Playing - This game is called “luksong tinik” (“leaping over thorns”). This is one of the games here in the Philippines that I love to play. Many people here love to play “luksong tinik”."
Melanie Wynn: "I was taking a picture of boys outside, because they’re out there all the time doing nothing with their lives." [Her little brother is the one captured looking at them]
Ryan Empino: "Picture of People Sleeping in the Street - I wish there were no more poor people who lived on the streets. I hope the government pays attention to their situation and starts finding solutions, especially for the young homeless kids, so that they will not get sick with dengue and so that they will not have to live with the dangers of the streets. That's why my wish is that the homeless people will be given free housing. What a happy world that would be!"
Christine Gotiac: [No caption]
If you are interested in learning more about this project, or even better, keeping up with the ongoing conversation about what youth want their cities to look like, check out our Facebook group, Visualizing my City (or you can email us: firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com).