Study will help support sustainable young lives

OPINION: 

The University of Canterbury is joining a major international study of young urban lifestyles. Associate Professor BRONWYN HAYWARD explains its objectives.

The 21st century is the century of the city. A hundred years ago only about three of 10 people lived in a city but by 2050, seven in 10 of us will live in an urban area.

Each day, approximately 250,000 people somewhere in the world move into cities in search of new employment opportunities, social activities or simply a chance to be closer to family and friends.

Cities are also where we find most of the world's children's and young people. Half of our global population is now under 25 years of age and between 50 to 75 percent of young people already live in cities. Here in Christchurch about a third of the city is under the age of 25, and 20 to 24 year olds make up the single largest group in our city.

Cities are also sites of rapid resource consumption.

We know that our overall human development is already outstripping the planet's finite resources but in our day- to-day lives we rarely think about the way our lifestyles and our economic systems are contributing to a unsustainable consumption of raw materials or straining key aspects of the natural world we depend on, including our biodiversity, our climate systems, or freshwater.

In Christchurch, we have a unique opportunity to think about the long-term future of our city and how we support the capabilities of children and young adults to flourish.

The Christchurch City Council already allocates more than $950,000 a year to youth projects, including programmes for youth at risk, mentoring, recreation events and local community youth services.

It has become trite to say we are planning for a legacy for the future, but getting our cities right for our youngest citizens and for future generations means we are also more likely to meet the needs of older generations too.

Most young people don't pay rates, and many are too young to vote, but children and teens are already citizens in the sense of belonging to, participating in, and making demands of local communities.

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We need only to think about the huge contribution that the students from across Canterbury made through the Student Volunteer Army after the earthquakes to see why youthful population energy is so precious.

So how are we planning for a future city for young people, how much say do young citizens really have in their urban futures and how do we know if we are making progress?

The University of Canterbury is partnering colleagues from Surrey University, the United Nations Environment Programme and eight research organisations, to launch CYCLES for sustainabilityin 2016, a major world study of young urban lifestyles.

We will be asking youth what their ideal ways of living are and what are their worst.

We will be thinking about their patterns of energy use and consumption, including what they eat, to how they get around and away, live at home, recreate and communicate, learn and work.

When we first approached a sample group of young adults in Christchurch in 2009 in a forerunner to this project, their answers surprised us.

Many 18-34 year olds said their worst way of living would be to have to live in an apartment, unable to take part in outdoor activities. Others said they were already living well.

After the earthquakes, how are we doing now? How can we maintain access to the outdoors, while developing a more compact city?

Knowing that for many cities recovering from disaster, inequalities are widened in replanning not reduced, how can we ensure all young people have the opportunity to enjoy the Kiwi "good life" in Christchurch?

Christchurch as a city has been home to some ground breaking research for children over the years, the CYCLES world survey of youth in cities will offer ways to measures to assess how we are doing as a community.

Beginning in 2016, we hope through a process of listening to children and young adults and sharing our findings in visual ways, we can identify inspiring actions, monitor progress and support city leaders, communities, businesses and young citizens themselves to effect changes that support sustainable young lives and a vibrant city future.

Bronwyn Hayward is Associate Professor and Head of Department of Political Science, University of Canterbury, she is also one of nine lead co-investigators for CUSP, the newly awarded International Centre for Understanding Sustainable Prosperity.

 - Stuff

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