When you were a child, did you ever feel like adults never took you seriously? Were you bursting with creativity and overflowing with ideas that were deemed too playful and unsophisticated? When you opened your mouth to speak, did nobody listen? That’s how many youths in our community feel today, so Mara Mintzer, urban planner and past TEDxMileHigh speaker decided to listen.

As an urban planner, Mara’s job is to design beautiful places for citizens to live and love. However, in her talk, Mara brings to our attention the fact that we design the majority of our cities without the input of a quarter of the population. We make decisions about parks and play areas, land and community spaces without consulting many of the end users. Something needed to change.

Early July of this year, Mara hosted a TEDxMileHigh Adventure in Boulder where she inspired and challenged the community to listen and engage with young voices. Flash floods, speeding bikers, and dark walking paths are just a few of the reasons why Boulder decided the Civic Area needed to be redesigned and redeveloped. The city of Boulder wanted to provide an innovative way to bring kids into the heart of Boulder, so they partnered with Growing Up Boulder, to get the youth involved in the design process. They wanted the new Boulder Civic Area to be a shared space, family and child friendly. This adventure took us around the Civic Area, and we got to see the redevelopment and the suggestions from kids that were actually implemented.

The youth in our communities are smart, able, and bold. They have so much to offer but are too often silenced because of their age, maturity level, and experience. Mara’s organization, Growing Up Boulder, empowers youth to influence change and become involved citizens from day one. Children are not treated as inferior beings, but rather as independent thinkers who have the ability and imagination to better our world.

“Kids are able to come up with ideas that adults cannot, because we have an imagination that’s unbound.” – Miles, Growing Up Boulder

“CITY AS PLAY”

Close your eyes. Picture your favorite place to explore or hideout as a child. What did it look like? What did it smell like? Was there anyone else around? Now, open your eyes and create that place! This is an interactive exercise called “City as Play” that Growing Up Boulder does at their events. Adventure attendees were given materials usually found in junk drawers and instructed to make something with them.

A grandparent’s backyard, a riverbed, large fields, and bike paths were just a few of the places people enjoyed playing as children. They loved the ability to explore unsupervised at these places — the independence, the freedom, and the nature. People value independence. Kids value independence. So, what better way to help them feel independent and valued than to get them involved and interacting with the community? Give them power to make decisions and respect their ability to make a difference, especially at a young age.

Kids have an amazing way of taking what’s around them and making it functional, taking nature and building around it to make it look more natural. Mara says, “Children are designing the cities we all want to live in.” So why don’t we let them?

“Youth and kids have something valuable to contribute today, not at the voting age, not in twenty years, now.”

– Cathy, Growing Up Boulder

 What can you do moving forward?

Learn more.

Check out Mara’s book, Placemaking with Children and Youth, to get some tips about how you can start implementing change in your city.  

Tell others why young people’s voice matters.

The first step is to include youth voices in planning and raise consciousness about why it matters. Often people are skeptical that young people have anything valuable to contribute. Use Mara’s TEDx talk, examples of success from Growing Up Boulder, or examples from other child-friendly cities to highlight tangible improvements in the community. Talk to friends, family, city staff, elected officials, and educators about this topic–you’d be surprised what good banter it makes for cocktail parties!

Is your city a child-friendly city?

Ask your elected officials and city (or municipal) staff if they are including child and youth voices in their planning. If they are, what can you do to further support it? If they are not, how might you begin to work with them collaboratively? Collaboration will be your best friend.

Start small.

Starting child-friendly city work can feel overwhelming, but you do not need to do everything at once. To begin, you need one enthusiastic representative from government and one group of young people. We find it easiest to work with established groups of young people at schools, like an after-school program. Choose a project that can be a win for everyone. Mara’s organization, Growing Up Boulder, is based out of the University of Colorado. Other universities can be great partners as well. If there is no university in your town, other like-minded institutions can partner with you. Use your first project as proof for why participatory youth planning should continue in your community and build upon your success.

Do you want to get more involved with TEDxMileHigh?

Check out our upcoming adventures!