Hey, Urban Planners Do Not Forget to Plan as When You Were a Child.

Young people in Cali are taking over the city with tactical urbanism to address their concerns and are asking urban planners to also include the youngest of society. As adults tend to plan spaces in terms of effectiveness and productivity, Michel Zuluaga addresses the need to include more young people in those processes and shares some successful experiences.

The city and youth are identical in many contexts as many cities are described with many positive adjectives that represent youth. Being young and living in an urban society can bring a sea of opportunities, which implies having, within a few kilometres, access to different services and leisure offers. But often life in this urban society can also represent a lot of barriers. This is evident in countries of the global south where cities are planned in terms of productivity.

Today, Cali in Colombia has an estimated population of 2.4 million inhabitants, of those, 23.5 per cent are between 14 and 28 years old. This figure is important because Cali is considered a young city, which has proven to be the epicentre of the social struggle led by the youth since the social outbreak of 2019 started.  The inequalities, the lack of opportunities, and the barriers to accessing public services such as education have been the issues on the agenda of the youth, at least now in Cali.

Democratic Spaces are Driving Change

Therefore, the planning of cities has been thought of in terms of work and has left aside the needs of the younger inhabitants who grow up there.  As urban planners, most of the time they are working on ways to connect people in less costly and more efficient ways; the residential centres with the trade centers and with strategic points such as health, education etc. The problem is that the adults and urban planners are not planning at scales of neighbourhoods and are leaving behind the children of the city that are 12 years old and younger.

We forget when we grow up, that we preferred to spend more time outside with friends, or being at school, that we get along with the recognition of our four blocks, or sometimes more when you have family nearby and you have more eyes looking out for you when you live in popular neighbourhoods such as the Poblado II in Cali, for example.

For the older youth, especially those who are beginning to leave their neighbourhoods and find preferential spaces to stay in, such as city centres, in the case of Cali, the Boulevard del Rio, and other open and democratic public spaces, where young people tend to gather, this agora begins to be created where critical ideas on different topics, such as mobility, the environment, gender and other issues, can resurface through the spoken word.

Temporary Changes Can Leave a Big Impact

In 2017, as part of a campaign developed by different young people from Cali, the idea to gather 100 cool ideas for the city in 1 day was born. This activity was crucial to get together with more young people who were carrying out actions that represented different ways of doing and improving things in their city. “Teje que teje el hueco” –Weave that weaves the hole- an initiative sought out to protest (media) by filling the holes with soft and easy-to-remove material, in the foundational square of Cali, where for many years the passage of cars had been prioritised, over the state of the pavements in this area.

This situation caused a media boom regarding the state of this square. It was not only a call for attention, a formal request in the municipality’s offices was submitted requesting the oversight, repair and maintenance of heritage space. Moreover, it was requested to prioritise the general interest over the private, in addition to the promotion of mobility from the walkability. And to repair it as a priority for the following year.

This process was accompanied by the citizen collective La ciudad verde, and then a wing of it became the collective of, where we proposed weaving and knitting as a form of expression of identity in the public space which we inhabit. For example, we highlight weaknesses of the infrastructure, where it should have a real function for something everybody can use. We have joined different causes, either as supporters or in different cases leading them.  All are based on the artistic expression of recycling textiles that highlight our public space, whether decorative, denouncing character etc., or expression on issues related to our alliances (bike collective, feminist collectives, citizenship groups etc).

The Fight for Livable Cities Starts With The Youth

The most powerful tools for the prospect of change in urban planning are citizen participation and media pressure on principles of sustainability and safety in a more democratic and inclusive use of public spaces. But for now, the decision-making process of the people in charge of urban planning is still very hegemonic, including the scales, barriers, and uses that ignore the current needs of young citizens. Educating the critical youth on prototyping tools such as tactical urbanism can foster participation in decision-making spaces and institutions. Those are the meeting points, for urban planners, who have the political will to follow the line that the world is asking with extreme urgency, with the aim of combating climate change through more democratic use of spaces.  That is why tactical urbanism is a short-term but high-impact tool that shows cities and their governments where citizen initiatives are crying for change in terms of planning and resources.

Finally, and as a reflection, those processes such as Vivo Mi Calle/Despacio in Cali, of which I am currently part as a gender advisor, have proven to be a special practice worldwide of youth involvement.  Tactical urbanism not only serves urban issues and infrastructure but can also contribute to achieving the sustainable development goals, as the youth lead and accompany the youngest in their communities as mentors and educate them to become future governors for a new urban agenda.

Michel Zuluaga
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