Youthhood, Ed’s manifesto for the future of cities that prioritise youth, has been published in the latest issue of TESTING-GROUND. You can read it here, below:
Youthhood is a place where the lives and dreams of younger people are prioritised. It is a politics that recognises the long-futures that young people have in front of them while appreciating the achievements of older people and the benefits gained during their lives lived. While childhood can be considered a stage of life, beginning at birth and ending when childish thoughts and actions recede, and adulthood begins at the age of increasing social and legal responsibilities, Youthhood is claimed as both a time and place of youthfulness.
Youthhood is a place. This ‘hood’ derives from neighbourhood, and it provides generously for where young people learn and play: playgrounds are palaces, schools are sanctuaries and streets are safe places. In Youthhood school dinners are feasts, education is well funded, nursery teachers are highly paid, university is free, student debt does not exist – and neither do unpaid internships. Architectures are composed of soft surfaces, small chairs, low windows and funny roofs. Youthhood is a place of pushchairs, scooters, skateboards and bikes, where fast yields to slow and big makes way for small. Youthhood is green and blue – and yellow and orange and green and brown – bedtime is always after sunset, parks and gardens have tree houses and everyone gets free swimming lessons.
Youthhood marks times of lives: infants are exposed to joy and love; toddlers are supported to explore and to learn; children are free to question; youngsters learn to try (adult) things out; young adults make change; experienced adults facilitate and represent younger generations’ ambitions; and wise adults listen carefully, and then advise for the benefits of the young. Everyone is young and old; almost everyone is older than someone; everyone in Youthhood considers their decisions in regard to those younger than themselves.
This is a call for Youthhood. It is a response to cities polluted by old industries, deteriorating public parks, environments damaged by short-term economic priorities, and futures aspirations curtailed by political agendas. Youthood is a movement that recognises the risks of the future are carried by the young and the benefits of the past have been gained by the old. Youthhood is a city designed by the young people who will live in it as they grow old – not by old men who will be gone by the time it is built. Youthhood challenges growing elder populations and commitments to their pensions, while younger people are disadvantaged by the cost of living outpacing their earning potential.
Everyone’s world improves if the lives of younger people are prioritised. As Elion Veliaj, the Mayor of Tirana, describes: ‘To design and build a child-oriented urban space means to both improve the lives of all citizens and to make urban space accessible for all’ . Smooth footpaths provide for babies in buggies and teenagers on skateboards as well as adults in wheelchairs and less stable pensioners. Veliaj continues: ‘By drastically improving the situation of children, we gained the support of these (behavioural) change agents that have not hidden agenda’ .
Youthhood recognises that younger people are underrepresented in the decision-making of many places, cities and countries where the size of older populations overshadows youth : as Prof David Runciman states in Democracy for the Youth: ‘The thing that is new [today] is the disadvantage felt by younger generations because that’s the huge demographic shift towards societies where people are so old.’ He describes that unlike Ancient Athens, ‘You don’t need to be frightened of being ruled by the young [anymore] because there aren’t enough of them.’ Youthhood recognises this imbalance, ensuring that younger people could both vote and govern. Youthhood is a democracy of youth, where people can vote from the age of six  – and where elders vote to support the aspirations of the younger.
Youthhood ensures opportunities for younger people to inform their future lives. But Youthhood is not a paternalistic endeavour of forcing young people to learn from the missteps of past generations. It is a process of making possible the dreams of young people, supporting them in addressing their concerns and encouraging them to imagine beyond the failures of the past. It is an exercise in listening for the young and the old, the professional and the untrained – it requires a maturity in younger people who will have to live this future world and empathy from older people who recognise the uncertainty of what will come.
Youthhood is a time and a place of considering the implications on the future of individual and collective decisions. It questions dogma forced on younger people – whether from uncritical curricula, religious education, corporate agendas or populist claims – and it opens up knowledge and opportunities for everyone. Frank Gehry, in the documentary Kid City (1972), describes a workshop where he builds a model city with children: ‘All we are talking about is trying things and taking chances…’ . Youthhood approaches young people with respect for their individual and collective ambitions and their potential for innovation and wisdom. It empathises with mistakes made in navigating changing worlds and it acknowledges that young people will be old, and elders were once young. Youthhood is a place where the lives and dreams of younger people are put first. Youthhood must be built!
Ed Wall, January 2022