Event Report: Young People and the ‘New Urban Agenda’ Conference (14th – 15th September, 2016), University of Birmingham

Young People and the ‘New Urban Agenda’ Conference (14th – 15th September, 2016), University of Birmingham

On 14th and 15th September 2016 the ‘Young People and the New Urban Agenda’ conference was held at the Birmingham Botanical Gardens. Organised by the University of Birmingham and supported by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) and the Geographies of Children, Youth and Families Research Group (GCYFRG), the event was attended by delegates from Brazil, India, Kenya and across Europe.

The aim of the event was to bring together academics, NGOs, government representatives and UN agencies to address the key themes of the UN-Habitat III New Urban Agenda, to provide a forum for debate, critical reflection and interdisciplinary discussion.

With more than 18 per cent of the world’s population aged between 15 and 24, it is a crucial time to be discussing the challenges and opportunities which face young people in diverse urban contexts. Taking Habitat III’s key themes of mobility, planning and design, water, and energy the conference delegates drew on recent research in diverse contexts to set the research agenda for young lives.

Professor Anoop Nayak opened the conference with a thought-provoking presentation on everyday encounters of racism by Bangladeshi youth in the UK, highlighting how young women in particular navigate urban space and encounter everyday racism. On day One of the event, parallel sessions focused on mobility, planning and design and water and energy. Presentations addressed young people’s everyday pedestrian practices (Dr. John Horton); mobility and inclusion (Dr. Miriam Ricci; Zoi Karampini; Sonja Marzi); travel and transport (Sarah Brooks-Wilson; Catherine Walker); mobility in the context of urban transformation (Dr. Sophie Hadfield-Hill and Dr. Cristiana Zara); mobilities and everyday technologies (Professor Pia Christensen and Dr.Susana Cortés-Morales) and mobile phone connectivity (Professor Gina Porter). In the realm of planning and design, presentations focused on inclusive town planning (Bonnie Kwok); the infrastructure of play (Grant Menzies); child friendly transitions (Ainara Sagarna Armburu) participation in planning (Jenny Wood; Selba Arin; Angeliki Bitou); cultural heritage (Dr. Andreza de Souza Santos); young bodies in public space (Mina Rezaei); the use of technologies to incentivize walking (Rebecca Craig); and children’s outdoor environments in Chinese cities (Dr. Helen Woolley).

Young people’s experiences of water and energy was a further theme of the conference. Professor Peter Kraftl considered the food-water-energy nexus in the Brazilian context; Dr. Cristiana Zara and Dr. Sophie Hadfield-Hill presented on (Re)thinking urban flows, drawing on young people’s experiences of urban change and Katherine Mycock on the role of forest schools in educating young people about water and energy use. On the second day this theme continued with a focus on student’s understanding of the watershed in Brazil (Dr. Arminda Eugenia Marques Campos) and unpacking the barriers to sustainable water consumption (Dr. Georgina Wood).   Picking up on the themes of play and safe cities, Dr. Helen Woolley presented on her work in disaster contexts and Dr. Sudeshna Chatterjee and Tannishtha Datta spoke about their work in India with ACE and UNICEF.

Youth in urban areas often lack access to housing and live in cities where they face difficult economic, political and social challenges. The Keynote presentation on Day Two, by Douglas Ragan, the Chief of the Youth and Livelihood Unit of UN-Habitat, addressed a range of UN led projects with youth. Douglas offered an insightful reflection on youth-led development and offered points of conversion between UN agencies and academic research. During the event there were two discussion sessions bringing together the themes of urban challenges, social inequality and the role of the New Urban Agenda in shaping young people’s lives. These discussion sessions were attended by an artist who is currently working on a visual representation of the issues raised.

The event concluded with a session on research methodologies, offering some interesting insights into ongoing research using participatory methods and the use of technologies to explore mobilities, feelings and experiences of urban space.

To conclude, the conference provided an intellectually stimulating environment for scholars and practitioners, coming together to discuss young lives in the context of a New Urban Agenda. Many thanks to all who participated, the funders, and the organisers, we are excited about the research and opportunities which may emerge from this dialogue.

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Methodology workshop participants – two sessions exploring participatory methods and the use of technologies in research with young people.

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