Co-design cities with young people in mind to improve mental health

Young people must be given a greater role in designing future cities so that their wellbeing and mental health can be prioritised, a new paper states

While cities offer a range of opportunities for living and working, they have also been shown to have a negative impact on the mental health of young people.

UNICEF predicts that more than 70 per cent of the world’s children will live in cities by the year 2050, and increasingly, urban areas will become a magnet for people aged 25 and under who seek work, education and housing.

A new paper from a US research team, published in Nature, emphasises that this demographic shift towards urban living requires that young people be given a greater voice in guiding the decisions of city planners.

More welcoming cities

Based on the findings of a new survey of experts and young people from 50 countries, the paper offers suggestions about how to make cities safer and more welcoming for younger people.

Working with the non-profit organisation CitiesRISE, the investigators created a series of surveys designed to identify suggestions to improve city planning by prioritising the wellbeing of young people. They surveyed a multidisciplinary group of researchers, practitioners and advocates that included younger respondents.

‘One of the most important points in the paper is we have to give young people a voice,’ said Jürgen Unützer, one of more than 30 contributors to the paper and chair of the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences.

‘This population shift is a big, big change. The people who make decisions about how cities spend their money, how they do things? None of them are young. They’re all older people, right? So, we have this huge disconnect between who lives there and who is deciding what we’ll be doing with the resources in our cities.’

‘We have this huge disconnect between who actually lives in cities and who decides the resources…’

Unützer said the paper provides both a call to action and a starting point for an important conversation. Each city must decide its needs, and regional and national governments must help them achieve those needs. The authors acknowledged that this would be a complicated conversation because no one-size-fits-all approach exists.

Differences in opinion on the future of cities emerged through the research, with younger and older survey respondents agreeing only about 30 per cent of the time. For instance, young respondents were far more interested in ways to avoid discrimination and marginalisation and removing barriers to equality.

This article in is partnership with SALUS Global Knowledge Exchange, content partner of WORKTECH Academy.
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