Idea of the Week

Youth Urbanism

We came up with this term as we thought about the question: How do we as folk who care about civil society and young people think about the ways in which cities impact youth? And how do we think about how young people impact cities? It came from a long-term conversation we've been having with our colleagues about how we work on population-wide concerns, particularly for youth. Cities tend to be constructed from the perspective of adults, and youth tend to get a bad rap in and from cities. Young people function ideologically as “matter out of place” in many cities, to quote Mary Douglas. Their presence is often reduced to nuisance, and their activities and habits of congregations in cities are suspect to adults. We think that the ways in which youth then become situated and create places for themselves in cities, places from the margins, leads to population-wide problems for youth.

If what we just said in any way rings true to you, and your work in any way intersects with youth and/or cities, we ask you this question: How are youth affected by places that see them as a detriment, a detractor to that places imagined set of user experiences? We all know when we aren't wanted; what happens when this attitude is carried out structurally in real space and time?

Now turn that on its head! If cities were imagined to help youth have a generally good experience of being young and for youth to contribute to everyone's experience of the city, how would cities look, feel and function? What would need to be different for design to include youth from the get-go? What would be the end result? We think it would be cities that were more interesting for all of us!