Many young people could care less about city planning or wrapping their brains around how to make their communities better places to live. They've got other things on their minds in their teens and twenties. But since they are the ones who will benefit most from decisions made today about what tomorrow's smart cities will be like, there's good reason to put some effort into getting them involved.
Below are some creative ways being used to get youth more engaged in their communities and thinking about issues and challenges. Key words: entertainment and prizes.
Let the hacking begin: Like so many other cities today, Glasgow, Scotland holds regular "future hacks" or "hack-a-thons" to encourage software developers to focus their brainpower on apps that can help solve city problems. According to the Sustainable Cities Collective, a recent weekend event challenged the coders to do something that improved public safety. The winning team presented the idea of helping emergency services find people quicker when they are calling from a mobile phone. They came up with an idea for a mobile app that can send short text messages, as well as a picture. In other hack-a-thons Glasgow developers were challenged to find ways to improve energy efficiency. Young people can be great coders, and have the energy and creativity to bring fresh ideas into the mix. These events often offer prizes, some to the tune of 20,000 euros. The Glasgow hack-a-thons are sponsored by the UK Technology Strategy Board's Future Cities Demonstrator Program and Glasgow City Council. The UK Technology Strategy Board is a member of the Council's Advisory Board.
Awareness? There's an app for that: Mashable.com tells about a free app and a movement designed to empower and motivate a new generation of young citizens. Called mPowering Action and developed by Tribal Brands, its purpose is to raise awareness and get young people involved in the conversation about sustainable energy and other good causes. It targets the under-25 crowd. Users can search through databases full of information on volunteering, events and nonprofit organizations that they can get involved with. Here's how the mPowering Action website explains it: "With the mPowering Action mobile app, you can share your story, through pictures and text, about the global issues that matter most to you. For each story you share, you can unlock free music and content from your favorite artists, athletes and celebrities from around the world. By sharing your stories in the app and posting them to Facebook, Twitter and Google+, you are helping to shape future initiatives and programs that will be developed by the United Nations community and partner organizations to make the world a better place."
Giving kids their own council: Salisbury, Maryland has established the Salisbury Civic Youth Council to help engage young people in city issues. According to a local news report, high school student Cole Davis was responsible for this idea, and shared it with his city council president, who immediately agreed it was worth doing. Participants on the youth council filled out lengthy applications to compete for seats. Their first task is to identify a city problem and develop a plan to address it. Once they've done that, the teens will present their plans to the city council and potentially help change their city for the better. The city council gets not only a sense of what young people think the city's problems are, but also ideas for fixing them. And the teens gain more confidence in becoming involved -- and the experience will look great on college applications.
Innovation as close as your local college campus: Cities looking for innovative problem-solving might want to partner with local colleges and universities. The University of San Diego just announced winners of its fourth Social Innovation Challenge where students from area universities compete for seed money to fund their proposed solutions to social, economic and environmental problems. The big winner was Rice Pollution Solution, a plan by a group of USD engineering students to remove toxic metals from the rice fields in China. They were awarded $20,000 in seed money. The Green Room team was awarded $15,000 for its project to provide underprivileged students the opportunity to develop "green technology" projects in their neighborhoods and encourage them to explore careers in science and technology. The VENA project -- a low-cost, zero energy water harvester for developing regions lacking access to potable water -- was awarded a total of $11,000. Click here to see all of the winners. The challenge is hosted by USD's Center for Peace and Commerce and prize money comes from a variety of donors, including foundations, banks and other private sources.
Planning by videogame: A Queensland, Australia based consortium is using the popular video game Minecraft to generate ideas for development of a former golf course site in the city of Maroochydore, according to Smartertrend.com/UK. Kids from around the world can help design a combination retail; residential and public open space. To get them motivated, the consortium is offering over $10,000 in prizes to the two separate age groups: anyone over 13, and kids under 13. The goal is for the council to accept one of these designs, yet it is too early to tell if that will happen. You can see more about it in the video below.
Amy Enbysk is a 20-something writer/blogger living in Portland, Oregon.