Building sustainable cities starts with youth

Catherine Wang
Aug 5 · 7 min read
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As cities continue to evolve, redesigning them to become more sustainable eco-cities is in the near future. In the lives of youth today, Gen Z continues to rise and advocate for a sustainable planet. In addition, many youth advocate the 17 Sustainable Development Goals set by the UN to achieve a sustainable and universal world for future generations. Demonstrating the capability to generate change, youth can shift the world towards a greener future.

Sustainability is found in 3 main components: economic, environmental, and social factors. Therefore, creating eco-cities will be crucial for reducing the impacts of climate change, preserving natural resources, and creating long-lasting communities. Cities will continue to become eco-friendly as the importance for sustainability continues to spread. According to the United Nations Development Program, a sustainable city is an “investment in public transport, creating green public spaces, and urban planning and management”. These cities use fewer resources by minimizing inputs of resources and outputs of waste, including energy, food, and pollution. This encourages the creation of better and healthier urban areas.

By 2030, the majority of the urban population will be under the age of 18 and 68% of the world population will be living in cities by 2050. These statistics show how the future of cities and development relies on our generation as youth. The saying “age is just a number” reflects that anyone can transform the world for the better. As youth, we witness many individuals who have amounted to incredible accomplishments that I cannot even begin to fathom imagining. This includes Greta Thungberg and Malala Yousafzai, well-accomplished youth activists who have continued their work to make a difference in climate change and female education. However, I believe that these accomplishments come from having passion, speaking out and seizing the moment. As the youth of today, we have the opportunity to develop a changemaking journey and employ our voice to advocate for a cause. The hardest part is often finding a starting point.

Here are my suggestions on how youth can amplify their power and voices to be involved in building eco-cities.

1. Educate and learn.

Learn why cities are less sustainable than others and why eco-cities are so important for the future through educational platforms. Research the leading sustainable cities around the globe and their prime features and approaches to become an eco-city.

Whether it’s articles, podcasts, film and television, or short Youtube videos, there is a ton of online content about sustainability that you can learn from. Documentaries such as Before the Flood and Arctic Tale educate youth on climate change and its impacts in an entertaining form. Additionally, podcasts such as The Sustainable Agenda indulges questions and further insight into the future of sustainability.

One reason behind unsustainable cities is that there are not enough resources to support the needs of inhabitants, and is a concern that will continue as city populations increase. Look at how people consume or conserve their resources: including forms of transportation and options for recycling, reducing, and reusing products and materials. These are a few reasons why some urban areas are less sustainable, and there are many more reasons in each city.

Sustainability will be crucial for the future. Without a change, consequences such as rising CO2 levels, destroying ecosystems, lack of jobs, and an increase in poverty will follow. With rising global temperatures and carbon dioxide levels, climate change will continue to affect the environment causing abnormalities around the world. This includes shrinking ice sheets from the Arctic leading to rising sea levels and abnormal weather patterns such as intense rainfalls. The effects of global warming impacts Arctic animals, creates further air pollution, and floods coastal areas forcing people to relocate and inhabit inland areas. Sustainability and climate change are interconnected through the component of the environment, so sustainability is crucial and impacts everyone around the world.

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Copenhagen, Denmark, considered the most bike-friendly city in the world

The most sustainable cities around the world include Copenhagen, Amsterdam, and Stockholm. These cities are innovative and use various strategies to create greener urban areas, which includes prioritizing the reduction of fossil fuels and the amount of wasted heat. Cycling or electric cars are their primary forms of transportation. Additional sustainability measures include use of solar panels, growing food at home, and shopping at farmers’ markets to circulate money in the local economy. Toronto is one of Canada’s most sustainable cities, implementing TransformTO, a long-term climate action strategy to reduce gas emissions, grow the economy, and improve social equity. However, there is room for further improvement as we look at other European cities and their methods to become more eco-friendly and sustainable.

Present in the the top eco-cities mentioned above, some essential features include:

  1. Access to public resources such as education, health care centers, and other necessities
  2. Urban renewal actions such as the renovation of public spaces
  3. Reduction of CO2 emissions
  4. Favouring ethical consumption from eco-friendly sources
  5. Reduce, reuse and recycle to create minimal waste

Every city has different laws, standards, and people. But researching the reasons and features of eco-cities allows youth to extract this information and apply it to their own city. They can review this data and question whether their own city and inhabitants fulfil the criteria of an eco-city, unsustainable city, or both. This information, research, and questioning may spark ideas and increase youth involvement and advocacy, fighting for change and interest in city building.

2. Spread awareness.

In this technological age, there are many opportunities to increase awareness through social media and other platforms. With the ongoing pandemic and increasing use of technology, this is an opportunity for youth to use their own or generate additional networks to promote, spread awareness, and inform others of their cause. This can include creating or signing petitions and designing social media content on popular apps such as Instagram where the majority of users are youth.

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Statistics show that there are 3.5 billion social media users worldwide with users spending an average of 3 hours per day on social networks and messaging. Social media is an effective tool to reach a variety of age groups, spark attention, and enhance initiatives. Even without technology and social media, there are alternative methods of spreading your message on the importance and urgency of the climate crisis. Spreading the message to friends and family can create subtle changes in their lives and reduce their carbon footprint. The starting point for developing sustainable cities can begin with slight alterations to the way people live and use their resources in an effective and a greener style.

Spread social change for good and provide insight on the importance of this matter. There are multiple platforms for youth to speak on the importance of developing sustainable areas and why cities need to shift to more eco-friendly approaches.

3. Look for opportunities.

There are numerous online volunteering opportunities, webinars, and workshops hosted and found with a simple Google search. Through platforms such as Linkedin, get in contact with urban planners, architects, and other professionals that work in sustainability sectors. Ask to conduct brief interviews with insightful questions on their views of building eco-cities and other opportunities for youth involvement. With these contacts and information, gather more research and start your own passion project to continue connecting with more youth.

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Youth brainstorming at last year’s 1UP Leaders Lab

Here at 1UP Toronto, there are many ways to get involved in city-building and inspire the next generation of changemakers. From annual conferences to the upcoming online Leaders Lab event, youth can get involved and express their innovative ideas in solving real-world problems surrounding city building. Leaders Lab is a free leadership program with design jams, guest speakers, and multiple skills workshops. It’s a fantastic opportunity for youth to get involved and network and meet other like-minded and passionate individuals surrounding city-building, identifying problems, and innovating new spaces.

If schools open this September, consider starting a club with other passionate youth. Even if online school continues, hosting online meetings using video conferencing tools like Zoom is a great alternative. Educate others on the importance of creating sustainable cities and ecological environments. Learn how elements that construct a sustainable city can be transferred into your school, community, and home to create tangible change.

The future lies in the youth of today and what they are capable of delivering to city-building. There are numerous opportunities to shift cities towards an eco-friendly approach and produce cities of the future by starting with small actions. Youth have the opportunity to get involved by becoming more educated, spreading awareness, and gaining experience. In the future where cities continue to emerge, youth will have the potential and capability to be part of designing these sustainable cities. We can truly have an impact on the appearance and growth of cities to produce a better urban environment for future generations.

Urban Minds

​We are creating new ways for youth to participate in city building.

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