Youth Plan
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Youth Plan

International Youth Day — 12th of August 2022

International and national policy actors began to recognize youth as having an important role in advancing sustainable developmental goals. Not only is youth going to live the implication of the very decision-making that is happening today, but they also are our closest connection to future generations.

The 12th of August has been declared as International Youth Day by the United Nations to celebrate youth, remember the importance this social group has for our society and discuss the challenges and uncertainties youth face. This year the recurrence is particularly relevant as we are ending a long period marked by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has quite much impacted young people across the globe. Yet, how to identify, address and remove the barriers that youth face and create institutional structures is still an open question. This is inclusive of how to go about urban governance and the making of more sustainable living environments which also meet the needs of the younger demographic groups.

Today, on World Youth Day 2022, Romina Rodela, Associate Professor at Södertörn University, reflects on work done as part of current and recently completed research projects that looked at youth in the context of environmental governance and urban governance more specifically.

What are the challenges young people face in urban areas?

Youth is a very large group embracing diverse ages and profiles. Young people are often grouped along the insight accumulated on human development — from a medical viewpoint, mostly — which reports on the role and weight developmental milestones have on people. Thus, younger demographic groups are most often grouped into early years, childhood, pre- and teen years, and young adults. Much of public service provision i.e. education, health, care, culture, etc., is organized along this classification, inclusive of the provision of public places meant to serve the needs young people have during the different developmental stages.

However, research reports on how cities seem to cater more to the needs of some age groups when it comes to public places. Notably, there is much more available in terms of outdoor recreation facilities for the younger age group compared to what teens and young adults have access to. This research notes how lack of access to public spaces erodes the opportunities young people have to move around to socialize and meet with peers, which consequently has implications for their mental and physical health. Also, our research shows how COVID-19 and the corresponding limitations have impacted young people and those from disadvantaged urban areas in particular.

Most often, this occurs due to a lack of, or incomplete, consideration of the needs and possibilities young people have, as cities have been traditionally planned around the needs of the adult working population. This has left many behind and struggling.

What is meant by youth as a social group gaining a role in the context of environmental governance?

Environmental policymaking is an area where young people have not got a seat. Environmental policymaking is serious stuff. It is characterized by hard-core expertise, power, and influence on how things are done at different scales. The general and widely established belief is that environmental decision-making is a place for experts, decision-makers and stakeholders. In most cases, youth does not have a seat nor have influence on important environmental decision-making. The reasons for this include youth being seen as still developing, adults in the making, and so incomplete. It is assumed youth are not quite able to grasp and take a stand on important matters since really many important stuff, eg voting, is accessible later on.

Yet, time and time again, youth has been emerging as a driving force of change processes. The very latest wave of youth protests and environmental activism is very relevant and interesting as it not only signals a shift in the view of where youth is allowed space but also suggests a shift in the position youth has in society and apparently also policy. Our current research into youth activism shows the way they are mobilising and advocating. We mapped 34 cases of youth-led or youth-centred legal mobilisation for environmental justice, which is an extremely interesting mobilisation strategy we are now continuing to study.

Youth is pushing and pulling those in power, and in doing so, youth is emerging as a political voice demanding the right to influence decisions that have an impact on them and that will shape future opportunities for a safe, dignified and healthy environment.

Core practical insight from research by Rodela and Norss (2022)

What is the place of youth in relation to the SDGs?

Youth as a social group has a very important role for what regards meeting our green targets and implementing of sustainable development goals. Not only are young people those who will bear the social and environmental consequences of the decision-making happening today, but they are alsp our closest connection to future generations. Yet environmental policymaking rarely looks at youth in this way or includes youth as a stakeholder group.

But things are changing! Sweden as a front runner on sustainability policy, has recently introduced a request to include a child and youth perspective into spatial planning, and our research into Swedish planning is an important milestone and key opportunity for operationalizing intergenerational justice. Also, the number of national and international initiatives where youth is invited to play an advisory role is growing really fast and will likely contribute to speeding up the re-positioning of youth in environmental governance. Yet, there is more work to be done to advance the ambition for more sustainable living environments.

We continue to stay critical observers and seek to do our best to prepare also practical insight.

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Planning with Youth

Planning with Youth

Planning with Youth (Youth Plan) is a research project studying the role of youth in sustainable urban planning. Founded by FORMAS.