1UP Leaders Lab: Youth City Builders Putting Ideas into Action

By: Wendy Wang, University of Toronto Schools (Grade 11)

On August 17, 18, and 19, Urban Minds’ youth-led initiative, 1UP Toronto, held their first-ever 1UP Leaders Lab in downtown Toronto. Over the course of three days, a group of 22 high school students travelled around Toronto while exploring both the past and the future of the city. Key locations included the historic landmarks of the Entertainment District and Evergreen Brick Works and new and unconventional public spaces, such as the Bentway and Open Streets TO. Besides the exciting urban adventures, the 1UP Leaders Lab participants gained practical knowledge and skills through workshops facilitated by organizations like 8 80 Cities and ResilientTO to design and create urban spaces like those they saw around the city.

As a participant in the 2018 Leaders Lab, I had an amazing opportunity to engage myself in the past, present, and future of my own city and communities. It gave me a glimpse of what truly goes into the creation of both the macro and micro-workings of a massive urban structure like the city of Toronto and challenged me to really put my knowledge to the test with real-world design problems.

A key feature of the Leaders Lab is the Design Jam which provides participants with a spatial design challenge that concerns a variety of different users within a community. As both an executive member of 1UP Toronto and a regular high schooler I took the initiative to spread the word about a problem that affected youth like myself and could also be solved by youth like myself. My high school – University of Toronto Schools (UTS) – is under a mandatory renovation, which although one day will become a beautiful space to educate future students, currently poses a challenge as all students must be relocated to a temporary location for two to four years. With this change being sudden and upsetting for many of my fellow students I believed that the design challenge would be the perfect opportunity for youth to create solutions to problems that affect other youth.

As the lead Design Jam facilitator, guiding the participants through the design process was a surprisingly enriching experience. Having seen both the challenge of the relocation first-hand as a UTS student and now the creative solutions that my peers developed helped me realize that there was so much that could be done about an issue I initially felt so hopeless about. To frame the challenge, we asked the participants to think from the perspectives of the students and explore how we might create a more comfortable experience for students in the new location. By the end of the Design Jam, the teams came up with many great ideas and feasible solutions. These included creating easily accessible transit schedules, express lines at nearby food locations, and an app that facilitates familiarity with the new neighbourhood.

Though these solutions may sound simple, they are viable and can be brought to reality to help the students in need. My classmates and I, who were part of the Leaders Lab, will be taking steps to introduce these solutions to the school administration with the intention to implement these ideas and help the students at UTS. It feels incredible that we were able to link high schoolers from all around the Greater Toronto Area, discover a new side of our own city and communities, and together create solutions for a problem that challenged our fellow youth.

The 2018 1UP Leaders Lab brought together a group of eager and ambitious high schoolers, pushed them to be the change-makers of the future of our cities and communities, and gave them the chance to impact the lives of hundreds of other like-minded youth.

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