Cities in the Time of COVID-19: How Can Youth Be At the Centre of Urban Recovery?

Featuring Veronika Bylicki, Executive Director & Co-Founder, CityHive; Michael Redhead Champagne, Public Speaker & Youth Mentor; Ana González Guerrero, Co-Founder & Managing Director, Youth Climate Lab; Aaron Myran, Executive Director, Future Majority; and Linxi Mytkolli, Manager, Youthful Cities

5 Key

A roundup of the most compelling ideas, themes and quotes from this candid conversation

1. “Youth” are not a homogenous group

The impacts of COVID-19 look different for someone in their twenties saddled with multiple care obligations and student debt, a high school graduate about to enter university, or a young person ageing out of the child welfare system. The panellists outlined gaps in the social safety net that have direct impacts on youth, such as access to mental health services, appropriate housing, and precarious employment in the gig economy. But the age group from 15 to 29 is also diverse in their perspectives on, and experiences in, urban spaces.

2. Youth-friendly forms of civic engagement are needed

Millennials were the largest voting demographic in the 2019 election, but many feel disconnected from the country’s politics and politicians. Many youth—and especially those from equity-seeking groups—have little faith in current structures or institutions of decision-making.  For example, for many Indigenous youth, there is little faith in City Hall as inclusive and open space for dialogue. It is critical to remove youth-specific barriers to civic engagement to allow for more meaningful and representative decisions.

3. Our decisions must be intergenerational

Engaging and educating youth on civic functions and working intergenerationally is critical to succession planning. People in positions of power must take “their own impermanence” into consideration, noted one of the panellists. “If you’re not thinking about succession, then you don’t care about young people.”

4. We have an opportunity to catapult into a ‘better normal’

Post-COVID-19, we should not go back to normal, but build up a “better normal.” The panellists agreed that COVID-19 has opened up policy windows to explore ideas previously considered unfeasible. This new normal must create better public spaces, and design solutions for those most vulnerable.

5. A youthful lens must be applied to post-COVID-19 recovery

Panellists discussed important opportunities going forward, such as extending the duration of COVID-19 benefits, re-evaluating approaches to city planning to be more inclusive of those who are typically not at the table, and thinking about protest and activism as a form of civic participation. As we move from crisis to recovery, it is critical to include young people in the rebuilding efforts.