It is important to have a youthful voice in city planning. I have repeatedly found myself to be the youngest person at planning open-houses and consultations I have attended in Ottawa. By missing these events, youth miss the opportunity to provide input on projects that will affect them greatly, such as the rezoning of a main street, the location of future LRT stations, or a landscape design project in their city.
This is particularly important for Ottawa, where 21% of the population is between the ages of 15 and 29 years old. By voicing their opinion about city-building issues, youth will have a better chance of inheriting an urban environment that works for their lifestyle and needs. Let us consider housing as an example: current land-use zoning will, in great measure, shape the housing options available to present-day university students when they are ready to buy their first home in 10 or 15 years.
Recent research suggests that housing development in Ottawa continues to be predominantly suburban. At the same time, statistics show that fewer and fewer young people across Canada are interested in obtaining driver’s licenses, a necessity in all but the few suburbs that have excellent transit connections. In Alberta, the percentage of 15-24 year-olds with a driver’s license has dropped by 20% over the past 20 years. If planners find that this is the case in Ottawa too, shouldn’t they rethink where residential development should be focused?
This example demonstrates why planners need to actively reach out to youth, understand their behaviour, and ask them what kind of development works best for them. Achieving this requires adapting the basic tools of planning, like surveys, data collection, and public participation, to effectively target youth. This is a challenging task, but there is already a wealth of information, from marketers, about how to effectively communicate with youth.
In fact, there is a great precedent for this in Ottawa: the 2012 Mayor’s Youth Summit. Hosted by Mayor Jim Watson and Councillor Mathieu Fleury, the event brought together over 180 youth to discuss topics like youth health, safety, employment, and civic engagement. The outcome was the creation of the Youth Summit Action Plan (YSAP), a series of actions that will make Ottawa a more youth-friendly city. One of the plan’s items called for the creation of the Ottawa Youth Engagement Committee to encourage youth engagement and amplify youth voice and representation at the City of Ottawa.
A notable missing item on the YSAP, however, is youth involvement in city planning activities. There is no mention of planning, and only a brief mention of transportation in the action plan.
There are other voices calling for greater youth involvement in cities. One such organization is Youthful Cities, based in Toronto, which seeks to amplify the voice of urban youth by comparing how well cities perform across different, youth-related categories. One of Youthful Cities’ actions is the Global Urban Youth Survey, which seeks to capture how important different urban features, like internal transportation and environmental sustainability, are to youth.
Ottawa is one of the 60+ global cities that will be included in Youthful Cities’ 2015 rankings. My hope is that this will stimulate the conversation about youth involvement in shaping the future built-environment of this city.
Is it important for planners to hear what youth are saying? Can you think of any cities that do a good job of planning for future generations - or with youth in mind?
Credits: Images by Nour Aoude. All data linked to sources.