The role of young people and social media in Egypt’s governmental transition provoke some big questions about how rapidly urbanizing cities can and should engage youth in shaping these places and their future growth. Two organizations in Mumbai appear to be approaching this concept in a pretty groundbreaking way.
Pukar is an independent research collective based in Mumbai that aims to democratize not only research, but the research process. Each year it sends hundreds of 18-30 year olds into the streets of Mumbai to explore and document the city through a variety of media—photos, videos, mapping tools, etc. The result? A rich perspective on development, citizenship and quality of life from people that are from the decision-making table. Future leaders empowered to perceive and experience their city through a creative, critical lens. The Youth Fellowship Programme encourages collaboration and idea exchange by coordinating groups of 10 and stays true to its mission of democratizing the research process with a focus on youth outside the education system.
Commutiny, the Youth Collective, also based in India, works to empower young people between 18 and 30 years old to be more effective participants in decision-making in India. This support comes in the form of financial support for special projects, media training and relationship building. While I wonder how youth-driven this project is, the underlying logic seems right on.
As cities in all stages of development, from Bangalore to Detroit to Malmö, come to terms with the importance of talent attraction to their ability to prosper in a global, knowledge-based economy, the question of how to integrate the perspectives of young people into the decisions shaping the present and future of rapidly changing cities becomes even more relevant. The 21st century reality is that place matters to young people, and the educated and upwardly mobile have their choice of many. At least equally important is the fresh, valuable perspective youth can bring to urban issues. A city, after all, should serve the needs of many, and the proportion of young people in rapidly urbanizing places is generally substantial. So again, I return to how this engagement takes place—community-based research, leadership training, and empowerment through digital media? Direct appointments to commissions or the creation of youth advisory councils as we’ve seen in many American cities? I’m sure the possibilities are numerous, and I invite suggestions.
What’s the alternative to not engaging youth in the development of rapidly urbanizing cities? I can’t believe that it’s necessarily a Cairo-style uprising. Is “voting with their feet” a more likely scenario? Or will the specific cultural, political and economic conditions of cities in question mitigate such outcomes? Regardless of the political and economic necessity of youth engagement, I’m convinced the social value of engaging young people could critically benefit the transformation of these rising cities, and I hope to see innovative approaches emerge.