03 Apr Four Stories of Youth Creating Change in the City
March 10, 2018, marked the second 1UPToronto Youth City Builders Conference, an annual gathering of high school student leaders and urbanists exploring ideas to make our city a more livable and youth-friendly place.
Unlike the previous year, where we had mostly adult speakers sharing their experience, this time we placed an emphasis on shining the spotlight on young people creating change, putting them on equal footing with professionals and veteran city builders.
Since I co-founded Urban Minds in 2016, we have been mentoring high school students through the 1UP Youth City Builders Program to become urban changemakers. Each student would recruit a team of like-minded friends and take on a project that addresses an issue they identify in their own community.
After seven months of further exploring the issue, brainstorming solutions, and designing prototypes, four groups of students presented their projects at this year’s 1UPToronto Conference to professionals who could help further their impact.
Michelle and her team from A.Y. Jackson Secondary School want to paint a glow-in-the-dark mural along Duncan Creek Trail, a walking path through a park that separates the two schools in the neighbourhood.
They believe public art could bring the community together and make the experience walking on this trail more enjoyable at all times of the day.
Anya, Alena, and their friends from Earl Haig Secondary School plan to create their own pop-up crosswalk for pedestrians near their school, on Doris Ave. just behind the Empress Walk Mall.
They have seen far too many people risking their lives every day jaywalking across the street. As our city leaders fail to be decisive and act boldly on the REImagining Yonge plan in this same neighbourhood, these students are looking into resources like NACTO Urban Street Design Guide to help them create a safe design for this pop-up crosswalk.
Emaan and her team in Glenforest Secondary School in Mississauga hope to create a community bulletin board at their school bus stop.
Why waste an opportunity when you have a captive audience waiting at a bus stop, often bored and looking for something to look at? Their idea is to create a weekly bulletin board that would keep students updated on events and happenings at school and in the community.
Chantel and her group at York Mills Collegiate Institute are transforming an underused space at school into a student lounge.
Previously a convenience store inside the school building, the space is currently used as a storage room. After surveying and interviewing their peers, the team saw the impact of mental health on youth. They decided to recreate the space for students to relax and de-stress and are working to set up a system where volunteers would serve tea and play calming music in the mornings.
These are all high school students who volunteered their time and energy to make our communities safer, stronger, more enjoyable. They might not have the level of knowledge or experience as trained experts, but they certainly showed empathy and creativity in their ideas and action.
If you are a professional reading this, allow me to ask you: what would your work look like if you incorporated youth’s input? What would our neighbourhoods look like if students had a say in the planning and designing process?
In the new school year, we are looking for 10 new student leaders to be part of our 1UP Youth City Builders Program. Each participant will receive a small stipend, a 1UP Starter Kit, and ongoing mentorship to kickstart their project for change. To apply, visit: http://www.urbanminds.co/apply.html