Young people shaping our cities

The median age of the population in Africa is 18. In South Africa it is 25. 

Combine this with the local and global challenge of youth unemployment (1 in every 2 young people in South Africa have no job), the rapid pace of urbanisation and the state of our cities today, and one realises that something needs to change, and it is reasonable to think that this change should start with young people.

The plans, dialogue and visions being proposed and presented by the leaders of today, will in fact, be delivered and implemented by the young people of todayy. Yet, there is still such a large disconnect between the leadership and  young people who will be shaping our cities tomorrow. If young people are to be at the table in key discussions, in the boardrooms, and on the podiums, and work at the coal face of transforming and improving cities,  are they empowered and equipped to do so?

There is no debate that South African cities have, over two decades of democracy, been faced with the major challenge of moving our cities from being disconnected, fragmented and spatially incoherent , to becoming more inclusive, accessible and connected, economically, socially and culturally. The size and scale of this task – which will perhaps need many more decades to overcome – cannot be underestimated. But at the same time, young people should be asking the tough questions, as to whether the current state and way of doing things should persist, without disruption and innovation.

While young people are already leading in several ways, more young people will have a greater and more influential role in shaping the cities of tomorrow.  We know that there is no single solution, or approach or tertiary programme, that can develop the kind of leaders that we need to influence and run our cities, whether as political leaders, business people, civil society or in any field or capacity.

What if the young people who are passionate about shaping our cities were connected through shared stories, were empowered to lead and were inspired to act?

More recently our organisation has been exploring the idea of creating a Young Urbanist Network, with the aim of connecting young people through shared stories, empowering them to lead through learning and awareness and inspiring them to act. The word “urbanist” is chosen specifically to raise the question of who is or who should be labelled or self-identify as an “urbanist”. Who gets to talk, write, engage an influence our cities? Is it important to have an architecture, planning, engineering or design qualification? We like to believe that this term refers to people who are passionate about our cities, and are engaged or want to be engaged through participation in small and large interventions which can transform our cities to become more sustainable, inclusive and liveable.

At a Future Cape Town Summit hosted last week, exploring the idea of YUN, the emerging values of such a network included: Sharing, Support, Accessibility, Inspiration, Hope, Dialogue, Leadership, Storytelling, Learning and Connection, which could serve to frame the goals and objectives of a YUN.

Here are some of the organisations and networks we have been looking towards for inspiration:

NEW YORK: Urbanists

The Municipal Art Society knows that young people are the lifeblood of the city, with the ideas and energy to greatly impact its social, cultural and economic landscapes and shape its future. Through our Urbanist membership program, MAS seeks to empower hundreds of impassioned individuals early on in their careers by providing a platform for them to connect with one another and engage with the critical issues that concern New York’s livability and resilience.Urbanist members are a diverse group, coming from a wide array of industries and professions; what brings them together is a shared passion for New York and commitment to making it a better place to live, work and play. Through premier events and monthly outings that range from screenings and panel discussions to book signings and tours, Urbanists are afforded the dual opportunity to meet and socialize with like minded urban enthusiasts while educating themselves on any number of issues. They are invited to attend celebratory and thematic events per year, in addition to monthly engagements around the city.

Read more here:

LONDON: Young Urbanists

A wing of the Academy of Urbanism,  the new Young Urbanist membership welcomes students and early career professionals to be part of The Academy of Urbanism’s expanding network. According to their website, “Young Urbanists will have a willingness to develop their knowledge of the principles, techniques and processes of good urbanism, and will have opportunities to network with their peers and meet Academicians.”

Read more here:

NEW ENGLAND: Next Generation of New Urbanists

The Next Generation of New Urbanists is a fellowship within the Congress for the New Urbanism with three goals:

  • to provide a forum for new participants, new ideas, and new voices – from both within and from outside formal New Urbanist circles.
  • to function as a network that connects those of us interested in the advancement of New Urbanist theory and practice to ever changing realities.
  • to establish an infrastructure that will outlast any NextGen “member” that supports future leaders and provides a continual input of creative energy and new personalities into CNU.

New Urbanists are professionals from various fields dedicated to implementing the principles of New Urbanism, a movement that seeks to create and support walkable, compact, diverse communities in the U.S. and beyond.

Read more here:

GHANA: Ghana Youth Environmental Movement

The Ghana Youth Environmental Movement (GYEM) is a grass root movement of masses of young people from diverse backgrounds and groups, passionate about the environment and uniting collective efforts to achieve environmental justice. Their mission is “to build a robust generation-wide movement of young people from diverse backgrounds to solve the environmental crisis in Ghana and the global climate crisis.

Read about their recent opposition to the construction of an amusement park in the Achimota Forest 



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