Creativity, Daringness, and Honesty: Why We Need Youth to be City Builders Today

What did you do on March Break when you were in high school? (I know it’s been a few years for most of you.) If you told me that I’d be at a conference with dozens of other students, speakers, and volunteers to talk about urban issues and creating change, I wouldn’t believe you.

But that’s exactly what these high school students did this year. On March 19th, my partners and I co-hosted 1UPToronto, a youth conference to inspire young people to become changemakers in the city. Over 40 students across the GTA came together to learn about “play, eat, move” – public spaces, food equity, and transportation – from a talented group of city shakers and movers.

Then, within two hours, students were challenged to design and prototype solutions to real-life issues in Toronto. How might we create a youthful public space underneath the Gardiner? How might we make young people’s commuting experience more enjoyable on King Street? And how might we improve food access for youth in the Malvern community?

The ideas were so impressive that they made it to the front page of Metro the very next day! From the fun-and-spectacular, like a rock-climbing cave at the Bentway, to the feasible-and-much-needed, like a weekend cooking club in Malvern, students took the time to understand the real needs of the community in each situation before they began to brainstorm and design solutions. That’s the spirit of human-centred design, as our keynote speaker Zahra Ebrahim emphasized in her presentation.

My partners and I started Urban Minds and the 1UPToronto project 8 months ago, with a mission to shape the next generation of urban changemakers. We know that not everyone’s going to become an urban planner, an architect, or an engineer when they grow up; but we truly believe that anyone, regardless of their age, can be an advocate in their community today. With the support of Toronto City Planning and organizations such as 8 80 Cities, 1UPToronto was a great success. The wealth of ideas and solutions generated by the participants will inform planners in initiatives such as Growing Up: Planning for Children in New Vertical Communities and the King Street Pilot Study.












Young people are full of energy and creativity, unbounded by rules and conventions, and (brutally) honest about the things they like or don’t like. These are precisely the qualities we need in visionary city-builders. Besides, youth are some of the least represented demographics in the decision-making process. If we are serious about creating communities for all, it’s time to make room for these young, brilliant minds to “1UP” our cities.

We’re now looking for urban-minded people (pun intended) to collaborate with to run workshops, tours and activities for high school students. To reach us or to learn more about 1UPToronto, visit

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