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In a world that is increasingly interconnected, answers to everyday problems not only come from traditional mechanisms, but also come from a growing number of tools and grassroots associations with great transformative potential. Empowered by social media and knowledge-sharing systems, young men and women have become key agents for decision-making in cities.

Article 21 on the Ibero-American Convention on the Rights of Youth stresses the need to encourage youth to participate in different sectors of society, and to promote the discussion of ideas that come from this age group. But, how can we channel this participation and integrate it into urban design?

In the context of the IDB’s “Take your Sons and Daughters to Work Day,” the Emerging and Sustainable Cities Initiative´s (ESCI) organized a set of activities for young adults (15-18 years old) in order to share some of our work in the region, and to teach them how they can become involved in making cities more sustainable. For this purpose, we adapted one of our most popular design tools: the Urban Design Lab (UDL), a participatory design methodology that consists working with diverse social actors (government, businesses, citizens) to identify and discuss current issues and develop scenarios for potential interventions in cities.

For this UDL, we invited 28 young men and women to analyze how we can improve two areas of Washington D.C. Half of the group visited Franklin Square—a public space located two blocks away from the IDB headquarters—and the other half visited City Center—a new commercial and residential development located steps away from Chinatown. During the visit, the groups took notes of their observations and answered questions such as: “How many bus stops do you see?” “What kinds of activities can people do in this area?” “What can be done to improve it?” Some of them even asked questions to shop owners or passersby, to get a sense of what they liked or disliked about the area.

TCW3Visit to Franklin Square. Photo: Ramón Zamora

We then returned to the Bank and split into groups to work in two activities: a mind-mapping exercise where each group had to draw what they observed during the visit, and a list of the main strengths and weaknesses observed in the area. This was followed by group presentations of their findings, and a general discussion on how to make both areas—Franklin Square and City Center—more attractive for people to visit.

 TCW2Presentation of stregths and weaknesses of City Center. Photo: Ramon Zamora

The discussion was by far the most interesting part of the activity. The group took the lead and proposed different ideas to make Washington a better place to live. For instance, they suggested that Franklin Square could benefit from better lighting, a playground, a pet-friendly section and some tables for eating and socializing. They also mentioned that City Center needs more convenience stores, a Capital Bikeshare station, and fewer restrictions on where to eat or play music. The group recognized the differences that exist between the two areas and the people who live/ work in them, and pointed out the need to take measures to assist the homeless population.

This exercise not only inspired us, but also reminded us that planning cities cannot happen in a vacuum. Designing better, innovative and more livable cities requires taking into account the views and concerns of all sectors of society, including younger generations. After all, designing cities for the youth is the key to creating the cities of the future.

tcw5Photo: Ramon Zamora