Young people need a say on the future growth of cities. Credit Town Teams
  • Use avenues that are interactive, fun, and meaningful
  • Gamifying engagement is a popular tool
  • Providing opportunity and support is another factor

Young people represent the future residents and purchasers in new and existing communities, which gives them a critical reason to be part of consultation and engagement processes in relation to urban growth and development.

Despite their pivotal role in the future of our cities, towns and neighbourhoods, according to Town Teams Co-Founder Jimmy Murphy, young people are often overlooked, and it is assumed that they can be difficult to engage with.

“They are the future of our cities and towns, and when you do connect, they have some really great ideas, which are more relevant and innovative for ‘their’ future,” Mr Murphy said.

“It’s also really important to provide young people with more confidence, capability and capacity to be part of the conversation to shape the future of creating great places.”

Simeon Shtebunaev, a Doctoral Researcher in Youth, Urban Planning and Future Cities, at the School of the Built Environment, Birmingham City University reinforces the importance of engaging with young people in the development and maintenance of place.

“Young people have the right to be involved and possess the agency to change their communities,” Mr Shtebunaev said.

“If we are serious about retaining young people in their communities, they must have a say and if heard they can offer new perspectives on the place where they live.”

Mr Shtebunaev is currently researching the participation of teenagers in the development of future city vision in cities in Bulgaria, Spain and the UK.

In a recent essay entitled Giving young adults voice and power over what gets built: advocating for youth participation in planning, regeneration, and neighbourhood management, Mr Shtebunaev outlined how teenagers and young adults are often forgotten in the dichotomy between children and older adults.

He says they are a group that often tends to be simply addressed by councils or developers through the construction of a skate park or a multi-use games area.

In his essay, Mr Shtebunaev presents ten arguments for increased participation of young people from statutory, democratic and stewardship arguments to social cohesion, economic and innovation.

Young people’s views

While young people are by no means a homogenous group, Mr Murphy says that younger people generally have a more ‘progressive’ view on the future growth of cities compared with older citizens.

“There is a focus on environmental sustainability, transport options other than cars, public art and vibrancy, and social inclusion,” Mr Murphy said.

Mr Shtebunaev says community-oriented ideas and concerns among young people is also more distinct as compared with the individualistic responses generally presented by older adults.

“In a recent consultation I undertook for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets ‘Good Growth’ strategy, we consulted young people in an online workshop about their ideas for future housing on small sites in the area,” Mr Shtebunaev said.

“Their views resulted in the introduction of a community principle – aimed at promoting a sense of community and fostering community life.

“This was an element of the proposals which was overlooked in the development of the policy until young people stepped up.”

Additionally, Executive Director of CGM Communications Anthony Fisk says that young people are more accustomed to the idea of building up, rather than out.

“Today’s youth are usually better able to acclimatise to apartment and duplex living,” Mr Fisk said.

“Many of these younger people who leave home, move into shared rental accommodation near their places of employment and education – typically low-cost apartments.

“Living in high-density housing can be driven by necessity rather than choice, but either way, this type of lifestyle has been normalised.”

Mr Murphy says that younger people want more choice.

“They don’t necessarily want the three- or four-bedroom house with the backyard,” Mr Murphy said.

“Many want to live in vibrant centres on transport corridors and are happy to compromise on individual space for shared services.”

When considering what younger people are looking for in their local neighbourhoods and in their housing, connectivity is high on the list.

“Connectivity is one of the highest priorities for younger people,” Mr Fisk said.

“Whether that is through broadband, walking tracks, cycleways or public transport – so they can meet with friends, colleagues and family without the need for a traditional [petrol] vehicle.

“Even if they can’t live close to the city, a high level of connectivity is an expectation for younger people – it is not something that can be bolted on later.

“Younger Western Australians haven’t flocked to the CBD as we have seen in Sydney and Melbourne, but we’re witnessing high-demand for higher density housing across inner-ring suburbs with thriving restaurant, pub and cafe scenes.

“Places like Subiaco, Nedlands, Victoria Park, Leederville and Highgate will continue to attract younger people looking for vibrancy and connection, without necessarily embracing the high-rise residential living in the CBD.”

Mr Shtebunaev also points to affordability as a top issue for this generation along with a maintaining physical and mental health.

Tools to get engaged

When looking at the best ways to get young people motivated and involved in consultation and engagement processes, while new technology and social media provide excellent avenues to reach out and engage, nothing trumps face to face communication.

“We all know younger people are likely to respond to effective social media campaigning,” Mr Fisk said. “However, nothing trumps person-to-person engagement.

“While this generation is probably better informed and more opinionated than any in history, they still appreciate the opportunity to participate IRL (in real life).”

Mr Murphy agrees, highlighting avenues that are interactive, fun and meaningful.

“Filling out a survey or meeting in a stuffy council building is not going to happen. Going to a ‘have your say’ workshop is unlikely,” Mr Murphy said.

“At Town Team Movement we encourage young people to actually get involved and do stuff by giving them the opportunity and support to do so.

“By contributing to the public realm and the local communities’, the broader community gains respect for them and that increases their influence and ultimately ‘empowers them’ in the true sense of the word.

“If young people are given guidance, support and resources they do the most amazing things.”

Gamifying engagement is also a popular tool.

Town Teams recently used an interactive ‘gaming’ workshop to design a new park in Kalamunda and Mr Shtebunaev says he was impressed by Brisbane’s Local Plan consultation density game.

But technology can also carry bias and entrench inequalities, Mr Shtebunaev warns.

“In my research I have come across many smart city strategies that do not aim to fundamentally rethink the relationship between youth and planners, but rather just digitalise current physical tools, thus perpetuating inequalities that already exist such as access, financial barriers and language,” Mr Shtebunaev said.

“At the end of the day, younger people want the same thing as anyone else – they want to be respected and listened to,” Mr Fisk. said.

“Young people can see right through cynical marketing exercises, so only engage if you genuinely want to take their opinions onboard – no matter what tool you’re using.”


This story was originally published in The Urbanist magazine, an official publication of the Urban Development Institute of Australia (WA). It has been edited for republication by The Property Tribune. 

The Property Tribune thanks the UDIA WA for the opportunity to republish the work, and share thought leadership in relation to urban development and community creation with our readers.

Read the original copy of The Urbanist by heading to UDIA WA’s website under the News tab.

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