Empowering the Next Generation Urban Changemakers

Client: self initiated, supported by Municipality of Rotterdam

Year: 2021 -

Young City Makers

The new urban generation is growing up in an increasingly complex world, with increasingly big challenges. Being young in itself is a challenge - been there, done that - but it is particularly tough when your very future is at risk.


At the same time, fortunately, young people take the streets or fight for their future in other ways. We need the new generation city makers, who can find new solutions to wicked urban challenges. Technology and innovation won’t be enough - a new way of thinking and doing is essential, and this does not happen overnight. Young City Makers is about preparing our future leaders and change makers, equipping them with the right skills while learning from them how we can collaborate in completely new ways. The goal - truly empowering the next generation urban change makers to create the future, starting today. 


Young City Makers started in 2021 as a pilot program with a group of 15 youngsters from Rotterdam, aged 17-23. During 15 weeks we introduced them to the following topics:


  • URBAN YOUTH: about growing up in the city

  • GROW UP: about the future of food

  • NEXTNATURE: about urban biodiversity

  • LIVING TOGETHER: about the written and unwritten rules of living in the city

  • WHO RUNS THE CITY?: about new forms of power and the strength of diversity


Over the course of the program we organized a series of workshops aimed at opening up relevant discussions about our cities with the youngsters. By offering them new experiences and a safe space to reflect, we invited them to think and do differently, unleashing their power to deconstruct existing ideas and co-create new images of the future. To achieve this we used speculative design, which may be understood as a new design approach - an open set of tools, techniques and methods - that helps to make sense of the uncertain essence of the future. 


The result was overpowering - not only did all participants create very diverse and fresh scenarios about their idea of a future city, but they also designed an urban intervention about a topic that is essential for their dreamed city of the future.


The pilot project succeeded because it was thought, developed and used both as a toolkit and a space. 


A toolkit, as it laid the debate table with a whole new set of ways of thinking and working. Against the much traditional approach of efficiency and productivity that current educational systems overwhelmingly press onto youngsters, Young City Makers focused on creativity, imagination and collaboration. The space to think outside the box just grew naturally out of the youngsters' debate flow, showing how well prepared they are to use their imagination; a human superpower that older generations might have lost (is the ‘ok boomer’ a metaphor for this?)


But Young City Makers’ relevance did not stop there, as it was also a safe space. The activities during all sessions were aimed at creating the conditions for sharing, connecting and being listened to, blurring the generational gap, fighting stereotypes, removing any glimpse of mistrust and ultimately focusing on emotional and mental health. This couldn’t be more relevant now, especially after - but not only due to - the pandemic.