If more than half the world’s population is made up of youth under the age of 30 and half of the world lives in cities, then why aren’t cities and youth doing more to design and build better cities? What can be done to change this?
Canadian Robert Barnard spent more than 15 years “decoding” younger generations. He found that youth were more than just energetic, creative, and digitally savvy people – as a group they also constituted the main demographic in the urbanization process. In a time when cities are experiencing an unprecedented rate of growth, youth are becoming more and more marginalized. The gap in research on youth participation within local planning and development processes lead Robert to realize that work still needed to be done to build youth capacity. Out of the 150 city-related indices around the world, not one had ever assessed cities from the viewpoint of young people.
To promote a more proactive perspective on both cities and youth, Robert set out to develop a strategy to create “better cities built by youth.” He launched a global social venture, YouthfulCities, which would jump-start the conversation: get youth interested in cities and cities interested in youth. Armed with a survey and a handful of passionate urban decoders, he began to uncover what really mattered to youth living in cities. Affordability, arts and culture, post-secondary education, public spaces, environmental stewardship, and support for young entrepreneurs were but a few of the issues identified.
The results of the survey gave rise to the YouthfulCities Index, which for the first time ever, would help quantify which cities are the most attractive to young people aged 15 to 29. In particular, the index aimed to rank 25 of the world’s largest cities by region, across 80 unique indicators in 16 categories. The index was also developed in collaboration with thousands of young people around the world, involving young people in every step of the process, from data collection to reporting.
The 2014 YouthfulCities Index recognized Toronto, Berlin, New York City, Dallas, and Paris as the world’s most attractive cities to youth. Although North American and European cities dominated the index (scoring highly in digital access, economic status, and financial access), Latin American and African cities scored highly in civic participation, and Asian and Latin American cities scored highly in environmental sustainability. In other words, no city was perfect; every city had something to learn from the other.
Cities already account for almost 80% of global GDP. It is estimated that by 2030, 6 out of every 10 people will live in a city, and that by 2050, this proportion will grow to 7 out of 10 people. The future of cities depends on the future of young people. It's time we start re-evaluating the role of youth in cities.