What do young people want from development? What would they like to see when we regenerate large swathes of our cities and towns? Are we asking them? We should be. But do we really care what they have to say anyway?
I am not referring to people in their twenties, even though the industry could do with engaging them more effectively, but teenagers – those young people who have either just got the vote or will have it in a couple of years.
Surely, we need to proactively and meaningfully engage with them and start listening and caring about what they have to say. If we choose to ignore them, we must realise by now that when certain sections of our society feel disenfranchised from decision-making, they detach from society and its norms resulting in all the problems for communities that come with that.
But it is a chicken and egg situation – like anyone, young people will only believe it is worthwhile engaging and sharing their views and ideas if they see their participation making a difference.
Looking at the property sector I think we are only just starting to wake up to the importance of listening to teenagers’ voices. Things are starting to change – albeit painfully slowly.
Social media is undoubtedly playing a part in this, as is the Greta Thunberg-effect (love her or loathe her) and her inspired school-strikes which have captured the imaginations of young people from across the social spectrum. Perhaps, simply, we are now in a new world order. It certainly feels that way.
Either way, to get the most out of youth engagement for everyone’s benefit and to get the best regeneration and development, here are a few thoughts on how I think we can do things better and make young people part of the solution and not the problem.
- Involve them in the conversation alongside everyone else, show them that their opinion is worth something and don’t just engage them for the sake of it. They need to be part of the main event not an adjunct to it.
- Encourage them to expect to have a voice and enable them to contribute their ideas constructively. Civil participation, debate, listening and engaging with people who hold different opinions and doing it constructively is something that should be encouraged in schools and it shouldn’t be the preserve of the brightest students, most conventional students or the debating society. We need to work with schools and youth leaders on this.
- Accept that just like everyone else, young people are diverse and cannot be treated as one homogeneous group.
- Listen and act on what young people say – this doesn’t mean agree with them or adopt every idea they come up with but at least genuinely explore their views and show how their ideas have been incorporated.
We ignore young people at our peril. Their issues and challenges are the same as ours and you cannot separate the two. And when it comes to development, chances are they will be living with the outcomes of our work a lot longer than we will.
Jenny Marshall is a director at Camargue