Young people know what will deliver a more youthful city– if only we’d ask them

Helen Connolly
3 min readApr 12, 2019


Evidence shows that young people worldwide are seeking opportunities to participate in building communities that value their energy and naturally innovative approach. For cities to have a strong economic and cultural life, we need to ask young people what they need and want — and what they want is cities that are connected, creative and confident.

As part of the conversations I have had with young people over the past couple of years they have raised concerns about the narrative of ageing populations, “retirement states” and “brain drains”. They have told me that we need to turn our attention to creating more youthful cities where young people want to learn earn and play.

So I went out and asked them what it would take to create a more youthful vibe. They told me we need a ‘young people friendly’ feel, ‘comfortable and welcoming’ — ‘a place where risk taking is accepted and innovation is encouraged’.

A place that creates the sense that ‘anything is possible here’ and where ‘tribes’ of young people can get together to try out new ideas, express themselves, and just ‘be young and hang out’ without fear of being hassled, judged or moved on

If we enable young people to influence how we develop a more youthful city we will nurture their sense of belonging, validate their opinions and ideas and create solutions that reflect their needs and interests.

In my discussions, young people have told me they want to be connected, creative and confident. A city that displays these three characteristics will be very attractive, appeal to young people and encourage them to build their lives there.

These three broad themes are consistently raised around the world, and have been captured via Canada’s Youthful Cities Global Index Report which takes input from more than 10,000+ young people who live in 55 mega cities across 6 global regions and ranks cities according to what matters to young people. Performing well on this index should be an aspiration for all cities who take the future of their city seriously.

In relation to the places they live young people have told me they want to participate. They want people to listen to and consider their ideas, to validate their contributions and to demonstrate their value through outcomes that reflect that they have had input. They want adults to demonstrate that their contribution as young people is valued, devising outcomes that cater for their needs and which reflect their interests and expectations. They want to be embraced not tolerated and their progressive ideas and contemporary leadership to be nurtured.

Seeing their interests and values reflected and celebrated where they live and go builds a sense of optimism and positivity for their future; one that embraces their ideas, their skills and interests and perhaps most of all — their vitality.

If we look at our cities from the perspective of young people, we will have a far better understanding of the future of city life, how to retain talent, enable entrepreneurial start-ups to flourish and create new technological opportunities in the digital economy, how to be clean and green, and how to ensure our cities are inclusive and visionary.

Today’s 14 year olds will grow to be 2030’s young leaders, entrepreneurs, middle managers and graduates, we should start talking to them now, they have unique perspectives on what makes a place tick.

So if we want to live in sustainable cities that promote economic and social wellbeing, leaders and decision makers must have relationships with young people that engages them involves them and includes them in the design of the places they live.

To find out more, head to to read our Youthful Cities report in full.

Helen Connolly, Commissioner for Children and Young People SA.
Friday 12th March 2019



Helen Connolly

Helen Connolly is South Australia’s inaugural Commissioner for Children and Young People. She advocates for change at the systemic level to improve C&YPs lives.