With urban centres expanding rapidly worldwide and becoming a major source of pollution, it has now become imperative to reflect on sustainable urban development and find innovative solutions to make our cities a place where people can thrive. Succeeding in this endeavour is imperative to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 11. A surge in youth activism has shown that young people are eager to participate in the design of their cities to make them more liveable; however, they still face socio-economic and institutional barriers that do not allow them to be part of the decision-making process. After discussing the importance of involving the youth in smart city planning in this article, we now take a look at how the Australian city of Brisbane is turning into a smart sustainable city and how young people are contributing to this.
Allowing youth to participate in sustainable urban development can lead to the adoption of greener and more effective practices. Indeed, research shows that Millennials and Generation Z are “more likely to make green decisions” than people from older generations.
Fortunately, some cities are starting to see the value of including this demographic group in such processes. The one that has set the example on how to increase youth participation in the design of smart sustainable cities is Brisbane, Australia. Estimates from the government indicate that the city will need to accommodate an additional 386,000 residents by 2041 – or an additional 1,300 each month – meaning that the complex issues of sustainable urban development need to be tackled as soon as possible.
In response to the projected increasing demand for public services, in 2017, the Brisbane City Council (BCC) launched the ‘Plan Your Brisbane’ initiative, a project that allows its citizens to experience the pros and cons of planning for residential growth firsthand and be a part of a community-wide conversation about the development of the inner city, focusing on four major themes: Lifestyle, green space, transport, and affordability.
Plan Your Brisbane aimed to obtain input from all demographic groups – including youth – through various channels, such as surveys, quick polls, and citywide assemblies. Young people were particularly targeted through school competitions, intergenerational forums, youth advisory councils, and the most successful initiative of all, the ‘Plan Your Brisbane Game’. The online gaming experience allowed users to build their suburbs while making specific decisions regarding how lifestyle, transport, housing affordability, and green space should be prioritised. The challenge of the simulated-city game was to build accommodation and public services for 1,000 new residents.
This part of the Plan Your Brisbane initiative was especially successful in engaging residents in the usually difficult-to-reach 18-24 and 25-34 age population groups and has been proved to increase youth engagement and interest in real-life issues. This is because it was based on the concept of gamification – the process of adding game-like elements to problems or arduous tasks to encourage participation in the brainstorming process to find innovative solutions.
Strong participation in the game was also fuelled by a branding agency that was hired to deliver an integrated, creative, and city-wide campaign to increase awareness. It included the production of a cinema ad, display media, TV commercials, press, outdoor adshels, and a digital campaign driven by Snapchat and Instagram videos.
Overall, both the game and the promotional campaign delivered the expected results. The initial goal of engaging with over 100,000 residents was exceeded, with a total of 100,869 people playing the game, 15,881 reaching the target of housing 1,000 residents, and 5,267 filling in the post-game surveys.
In the end, the Plan Your Brisbane Game received Australian and international praise, as it went on to win awards for its engagement, UX design, microsites, animation, and motion graphics.
As for youth participation, the Plan Your Brisbane Game attracted almost 18,000 people aged 34 or younger that either played online, submitted ideas, or shared their experience on social media. Additionally, through the formation of a Youth Advisory Council, young people expressed what they value the most about Brisbane, what they cared about, their big ideas for the future, and how they would like their city to look within the next five years.
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Young Brisbanites expressed interest in different aspects that make up a smart sustainable city, indicating that they value and care about renewable energy, cleanliness, active spaces, connectivity, digital change, sustainability, and the environment, among other things. Their ideas for the future include efficient transport and better liveability, interconnectivity, affordable housing, and turning landfills into art. As for the city they want in the future, they said that they would like it to be fun, affordable, diverse, safe, green, clean, and connected.
At the end of the project, Plan Your Brisbane generated over 15,000 ideas from more than 100,000 people representing every Brisbane suburb on how to make their city more livable.
After analysing the results, in mid-2018 the BCC launched ‘Brisbane’s Future Blueprint’, a document providing a plan with eight principles and 40 clear actions to guide decisions and make sure Brisbane can thrive while simoultaneoulsy achieving its goal of receiving hundreds of thousands of new residents over the next 20 years.
The Future of Smart Sustainable Cities
Over the coming years, there will be many opportunities to continue shifting urban centers towards a greener and more digital setup. Succeeding in this endeavour will largely depend on how we involve the youth so they can contribute to city-building through their skills and sustainability-oriented mentality.
For young people to make meaningful contributions, they will need to become more educated and informed, and they will have to be actively involved in decision-making processes. To get there, they will need support from a variety of stakeholders. For instance, governments around the world should be encouraged to take inspiration from initiatives like Brisbane’s to give a voice to young people and incorporate their views into sustainable urban planning and development processes.
It is time to realise the untapped potential of our metropolises. Whether we manage to increase youth participation and make the most out of their skills will be a breakpoint in the development of smart sustainable cities of the future.
As Raf Tuts, Director of UN-Habitat’s Global Solutions Division, puts it: “The battle to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals will be won or lost in cities, and it will be young men and women who will be leading the charge through their innovation and drive.”
This article is Part 2 of a two-part series on Smart Sustainable Cities. Check out Part 1: Why Youth Should Be Involved in the Planning of Smart Sustainable Cities