Revitalized Generation: Reimagining Cities after COVID-19

June 14, 2021

By: Cara Simpson, Communications Associate at Pivot Hub

This past year has forced us to significantly shift the way we exist in public spaces, and in many ways, this has exposed and exacerbated the obstacles young people face in our communities. With the closure of university campuses, arenas, bars, clubs, restaurants, and social distancing restrictions limiting recreational sports and other activities, youth in Metro Vancouver have been forced to restructure the way they live and move in their daily lives.

Pre-pandemic, a staggering 79% of young people were using public transit. Those numbers have decreased dramatically by 45% through the pandemic. Additionally, youth unemployment rates increased by 15% during the pandemic. Combating social isolation throughout the pandemic has brought on its own set of challenges. 88% of youth in Metro Vancouver expressed that bars and restaurants are an important part of their social lives. When these spaces disappeared in support of public health orders, we all felt it and youth particularly had reduced opportunity to connect with others in pivotal moments of their lives illustrating the need for spaces to exist where social connections can happen in a safe, affordable and accessible manner.

With rising concerns about affordability, young people have increasingly voiced that they are in a vulnerable position. Over 68% of youth in Metro Vancouver think their city is performing poorly in regards to the cost of living. Students have expressed the financial strains they experience while only being able to work part-time, struggling to afford their basic needs, let alone things that would enhance their quality of life. Beyond that, 19% of youth in Metro Vancouver are concerned about public safety and 37% have experienced a form of racism or xenophobia, a rate higher than the national average. As we reimagine what the future of our cities looks like, creating a strong foundation that enables young people to thrive in the future is paramount.

Despite the significant challenges youth have experienced in their communities, the resiliency they have demonstrated during this pandemic has been remarkable. The future might seem uncertain, but one thing is certain, youth are engaged and have something to say about it. Youth-led activism has been a driving force this past year putting to rest any ideas about a “disengaged generation”. If you ask youth what their visions for the future look like, they have ideas.

 “Further investment in health services and mental health services and Indigenous friendship centers and rehabilitation centers. I think those would be really important.” -  Vancouver,  Youth aged 22

 “For our city, everyone can make an impact. We're very active in advocacy and in protest, and I think that's what makes Vancouver really special. We all like to come together.” - Vancouver, Youth aged 24

One of the biggest barriers youth have shared they face in creating change is accessing those in power and entering into political spaces. Despite almost 50% of youth in Metro Vancouver indicating they have pursued change in their city through civic engagement, they do not feel they have a place within local government where the average age of city councillors in both Burnaby and Vancouver is over 50.

Youth cannot address these challenges alone, intergenerational collaboration is the key to pushing forward and reimagining what can be possible in our cities. As we slowly see our cities reopen, and our former realities call for us to return to normal, it will be our responsibility to resist going “back to normal” and instead reimagine what the “new normal” of our cities could look like. What benefits our youngest generations ultimately benefits us all.

The SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue and SFU Public Square invite you to take part in the remaining two events of our three part virtual dialogue series: Beyond COVID: Reimagining Our City Centres happening this week.

All statistics cited are from the Pivot Hub,  a youth-informed open data hub that inspires positive urban change created in partnership with The SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue.

The views and opinions expressed in the SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue blogs are those of the authors, and they do not necessarily reflect the official position of Simon Fraser University, SFU Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue or any other affiliated institutions in any way.