Youth Engagement In Practice

Federico Palacios
Urban Minds
Published in
3 min readAug 7, 2021

Lessons learned from city builders on the ground.

I’m Federico Palacios, graduate student at Ryerson University, and Research Analyst Intern at Urban Minds. My work with Urban Minds seeks to explore youth engagement in practice; read on below for more on our current research project.

At Urban Minds, our team is driven by a series of core principles. In particular, it is the belief that youth have the potential to shape inclusive communities with their creativity and fresh perspectives. This is at the centre of everything we do. Our team engages youth throughout the GTA to build their capacity to become agents of change in their urban communities.

But what happens beyond our 4 (virtual) walls? How do other players in urban planning and community development seek out and work with youth? These questions, among others, are those I am hoping to answer through my research work at Urban Minds this summer. This exciting project is being delivered through Urban Minds’ partnerships with Mitacs Accelerate, Ryerson University, and Ontario Professional Planners Institute.

Youth-led engagement in practice by Urban Minds as part of City of Markham’s consultation process

Throughout the summer, I have been recruiting urban planners, and planning-allied professionals (think community organizers, artists, architects, designers, etc.) across the GTA and beyond. Each respondent has taken time out of their lives to chat virtually about the ways in which they’ve engaged youth in their work. Together we’ve discussed how their approaches to youth engagement intersect with city and community building. Using a semi-structured interview process, we start with a fixed set of questions, but let respondents delve deeper into specific topics as the conversation progresses. This leads to a more organic conversation, especially compared to digital surveys; enabling respondents to speak in a relaxed and open environment. Another great advantage to this methodology is that it allows the researcher to really go in-depth and learn from a respondent’s expertise.

Given the range of backgrounds of our respondents, we have heard many innovative approaches used to engage youth in community building.

Here are some of our preliminary findings:

  1. Generally, planners see huge value in working with young people. Many perceive the importance of working with young people and agree that getting youth involved (at an early age) is critical. One respondent, in particular, spoke of the nuanced and intersectional nature of urban planning, and the diverse perspectives that youth add to the process.
  2. Youth face various economic, policy, and functional barriers when looking to participate in civic engagement. An example is how youth are often dependent on public transit or their guardians for their mobility. Their ability to access civic engagement opportunities hinges on being able to get there safely, easily, and affordably.
  3. Community leaders engage youth through a variety of innovative approaches. Youth are excited to work within their communities through artistic media. One program, in particular, uses art-based programming to build community while providing youth the critical skills to grow their artistic practice and potentially even make a career out of it.
  4. Our respondents described how they use a range of techniques to amplify young people’s ideas in spaces where they often go unheard. A great example is how the Region of Waterloo has made use of the Regional Council office to host youth engagement events in a deliberate effort to welcome youth into an often adult-dominated space. Check out this event, aptly named youTHINK, here.

This research project is just getting started and we are so energized by what we are hearing. If you would add to this discussion by participating in our study, don’t be shy! Send a note to with the subject header: Youth Engagement in Practice.

Look out for Part 2 of this blog series in October, where we’ll do a deeper dive into the findings of our study!