Youthful Urbanism: Empowering the Next Generation of Community Changemakers
Youth have big dreams to create a better world, but are we investing enough in youth to empower them to achieve their dreams?
What is Planning? This is a question that I get often as an Urban Planning student from friends and family over summer barbecues. It’s a completely fair question; many people don’t realize how much urban planning affects their lives — from the neighbourhoods they live in, the traffic they commute in, and where their malls and restaurants are located.
I may be biased as an urban planning student, but I believe urban planning is one of the most interesting career paths to pursue. It brings together an amazing diversity of individuals from different disciplines and backgrounds, all working together to help create the best communities to live, work, and play in.
Unfortunately, urban planning is rarely taught in Ontario high schools. Perhaps the grade 10 civics class is the most relevant course to planning, but it typically only covers the Canadian parliamentary system and social justice issues. With this in mind, we designed our pre-orientation program at Ryerson University (also known as X University)’s School of Urban and Regional Planning to welcome over 30 students to help them explore the exciting field of planning. The program, 105 Bond-ing Weekly Warm Ups (named after the building that the students will be studying in, 105 Bond Street), included team-bonding activities to get to know their peers and faculty, as well as upper-year students who gave “survival guides” to classes and campus life.
What 105 Bond-ing Weekly Warm Ups Looks Like:
Week 1: What is Urban Planning? Why does it matter?
We started off by exploring different urban planning niches, including transportation planning, urban design, and heritage planning, and the various issues around these topics. For example, should Toronto’s public transit be free to everyone? Should we collect data on people to build our communities?
Our conclusion: students were unanimous in their aspiration to improve the quality of life for individuals across all communities. For example, more than 75% of the students strongly felt that public transit should be universally accessible to all residents, because it would help mitigate the root causes of climate change and provide social benefits.
Weeks 2 & 3: Putting the principles in practice
We tasked the students with a design challenge: how might we beautify the streetscape in front of 105 Bond Street? As the building that urban planning students spend the majority of their time at, they would be walking through this space nearly every day for the next 4 years!
Students collaborated in groups on Google Jamboard and designed with the following principles in mind:
- Simplicity of implementation
- Cost feasibility
- Sparking delight
- Inclusive & welcoming
After collaborating with each other in small groups, students were able to form friendships with their fellow classmates. At the end of the week, the students presented their ideas to their instructors in a fun and interactive setting, similar to studio critique sessions that they would participate in later in the program.
Finally, we hosted a social activity to introduce the high school students to upper-year students and faculty members in the Urban Planning program. Through this session, students were able to ask any questions to address any concerns about the upcoming academic year. For example, what types of skills will be needed in the first year studio class. Upper-year students shared their experiences and recommendations on academics, the best places to eat on campus (Oakham Cafe!), and campus life tips.
To conclude the session, faculty members answered the ‘web’s most searched questions about urban planning,’ inspired by the YouTube Channel WIRED. For instance, professors noted that while urban planners only need one degree in urban planning, many benefit from having another complementary degree, in fields such as landscape architecture or civil engineering.
Ultimately, as youth advocates, Urban Minds is passionate about empowering youth to improve their communities. We loved helping students explore the amazing and diverse field of urban planning, especially through this special collaboration with Ryerson University.
Urban planning is essential to how we live, work, and play. Our team at Urban Minds is devoted to developing programming that encourages youth to create changes that will maximize the potential of communities around the world.