To the Leaders of Tomorrow: “Build your own Adventure Playgrounds!”

From October 15th to the 18th, delegates from all over Europe and North America flocked to the Westin Convention Center in Pittsburgh for the Remaking Cities Congress.  Over the past century, Pittsburgh has transformed from a steel town, filled with pollution, to a thriving and beautiful metropolis, making it the ideal location for the gathering.  Delegates met to discuss problems faced in cities worldwide and attempted to come up with possible solutions.

After hearing the discussions at the Remaking Cities Congress 2013, I was curious to see if any of the delegates planned to incorporate youth into their urban-planning.  To see if the more experienced delegates had plans to pass the torch of municipal management to the next generation, I interviewed the Mayor of Bristol, England, George Ferguson.

From your panel discussion, it is evident that you have invested a lot in infrastructure.  As Mayor of Bristol, how do you plan to invest in youth?

“In Bristol, we have two youth mayors and an elected youth committee, comprising of 20 representatives.  Because of austerity measures, money from the central government has [decreased]…, so what I am saying to youth is ‘Run your own adventure playgrounds and your own facilities, and I will get the local companies to mentor you and provide the resources you need to do that’.  We have moved from publicly-funded youth clubs to something that is much more self-help.  That is probably good for the young people.”

It is evident that the youth-led initiative has been very successful in Bristol.  From Mayor Ferguson’s example, it is undeniable that youth must be exposed to mentorship and effective decision-making, so that they can be involved in urban-planning later on.  Since the youth will live in these cities in the future, they should actively participate in planning for that future.

How do you retain youth?

“Well, young people tend to stay in Bristol.  I arrived in Bristol when I went to school at the University, and there is a very high retention factor, because it is a good city to live in.”

Bristol involves teenagers in its city affairs through its youth mayors and youth committee, revealing that Bristol is a city committed to considering young people’s opinions when making important decisions.  Cities all over world can learn from Bristol’s incorporation of youth into matters of public concern in order to ensure the continuation of city building and urbanization in the future.

To gain another perspective on the importance of youth in urban-planning, I talked to Grant Erwin, the Regional Director of 10,000 Friends, which focuses on policy-making for land use and infrastructure to strengthen and diversify Pennsylvania.  According to him, youth need to educate themselves on the issues that concern them, so that they can make better decisions about what careers to select and where to live.  From this, we learn that providing youth with the opportunities to discover more about the issues that they care about will promote civic engagement and inspire many to affect change in these areas.

Also, emeritus professor at Carnegie Mellon University, David Lewis, overall believes that it is up to the youth to create their own dreams and to work hard to achieve the changes they want to see in the world.  He argues that no matter what one’s goals are in life, if they are important to a person, it is worth all the hard work to get there. “Set your own goals, don’t let other people set your goals,” he suggests. “Look inside yourself to be what you want to be and then look for the courses in order to achieve your own personal goals; it doesn’t matter what they are!  Find out [what is] inside yourself [and]  what you want to do, and be very comfortable.  You’ll live your whole life with yourself; that’s the one person you live with all your life… So make up your own mind!”