OPINION: We young people want a say in how our cities are planned

Friday, 6 November 2020 14:46 GMT

An aerial view shows the almost deserted streets of an avenue amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Bogota, Colombia April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Luisa Gonzalez

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Young people should lead the way in creating inclusive public spaces

The future for youth in urban areas does not currently look very bright. We are living in cities that are increasingly ill-prepared for the environmental, economic, and – as COVID-19 has demonstrated – health challenges which we will face repeatedly over the coming decades. Young people account for one in every four people, yet we have historically had little influence or say in the ways our cities are planned.

It is imperative to create public spaces and public projects which promote inclusivity. For instance, poorly-maintained infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists disproportionately impacts the ability for young people to walk and bike to school, and the road safety of children. These are the same groups which are underrepresented in local decision-making bodies.

As part of the younger generation, we wanted a say in the way our city evolves, and this encouraged us to participate in the Future Cities Challenge, a new initiative from Fondation Botnar and UN-Habitat. The competition sought creative submissions from young people for how cities could be improved, looking at either public spaces, transport, environment, technology, or education.

We are proud to also be involved in Vivo Mi Calle, part of Fondation Botnar’s “Healthy Cities for Adolescents” intiative, implemented by Fundacion Despacio to improve data collection and understanding of young people’s mobility needs in Cali, Colombia. There are potential solutions to build a better future for children and young people, but these solutions are not guaranteed if there is no-one to push for their development.

We felt frustrated by a lack of care for the public spaces in Cali and therefore wanted an initiative which would draw attention to the urgent problems facing our city, starting with the poor maintenance of the central Plaza de Cayzedo. We wanted something that was eye-catching, thought-provoking, and headline-grabbing. While our solution may seem unexpected, we also think it ticks these boxes pretty successfully: yarn bombing.

Yarn bombing – otherwise known as graffiti knitting – involves weaving knitting and crochet to decorate urban spaces. For young people, weaving brings memories of home and family. Our project used these decorations to draw attention to the serious problems facing our city, but they are also a great way to celebrate these memories and remember the people we love.

It is through love for family, neighbours and community that young people can be motivated to take charge of the problems in their city. We crocheted over potholes in our city square and made Cali more colourful, one loop of yarn at a time.

Looking at the submissions of our fellow Future Cities Challenge winners, it is clear that safety and sustainability are key priorities for young people not just in Cali, but across the globe. It is great to see so many of our peers sharing our values and our mission, to make future cities that work for us, and for the generations that come after.

It is the responsibility of young people to make sure we stand up and make our interests known; failure to do this will result in cities designed without consideration for our needs, which will impact our wellbeing for decades to come.

Initiatives like Vivo Mi Calle and the Future Cities Challenge show the issues that matter to young people, and how we can offer creative solutions to future-proof cities. Our success here is only the beginning for us and for El Ovillo, and we hope our peers feel equally inspired. The scale of the issues facing future cities can seem frightening, but they are also too important for us to allow fear to deter us from action.

Michel, 24, and Valentina, 25, are both part of the Vivo Mi Calle initiative.