Who Says Young People Aren’t Politically Engaged?

Oct 6 • Articles, Best of 2015, OTTAWA • 2162 Views • No Comments on Who Says Young People Aren’t Politically Engaged?

By Phil Roberts

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With two weeks left until our federal election in Canada, the lack of youth voter turnout has been one of the many underlying issues of this campaign. There are those who may say that young people don’t care about issues. In reality, young people are more engaged in their communities than most people think. It’s not that they don’t care or aren’t engaged, it’s that they go about it differently and in innovative ways.

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A study released last month by Samara Canada, a charity dedicated to reconnecting citizens to politics, found that there are over a dozen ways in which Canadians under the age of 30 participate in civic and political processes, and at higher rates than people over 30. I got a chance to witness such youthful engagement late last month at Ottawa Architecture Week. As many architectural theorists have suggested for decades, architecture is politics, and for the 27th edition of the OAW, the youth were truly engaged and dedicated.

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Carleton University’s Azrieli School of Architecture and Urbanism exhibit of student work, a bas-relief model of 432 smaller models called The Exquisite Plan’, displayed what each student felt was special about the institution. Accompanied by ten winning proposal drawings, the exhibit examined what the campus is and what it could become. 432 ideas, stories and dreams made it a collective artefact of a snapshot in time of architecture students at Carleton University and how they see themselves in that narrative.

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Another exhibit, Ottawa: The Third City, rigorously revealed the multilayered characteristics of our nation’s capital. Curated by young urban designer, Michelle Blom of FOTENN Planning+Design, and two Carleton University urbanism students, Sarah Chan & Ranee Leung, The Third City uses maps generated from open data and relational urban studies to tell the story of Ottawa, lessening the perception that it is a town with a singular focus. For example, when comparing types of employment within individual census tracts, sales, retail and business take up more of the city than the civil service. Other data described in the exhibit help to identify issues for people to tackle, such as how many Ottawans who live in the downtown core don’t have easy access to a supermarket with healthy food. Even one of my Ottawa-born friends who toured the exhibit with me was shocked at the facts that she never knew about her hometown.

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Monumental city, another event that took place earlier in OAW, asked kids ages 6 to 12 to design and build a conceptual model of a new Ottawa monument. Aided by grownup designers, the juniors and their parents playfully explored architecture through forms and shapes, and got a chance to place their designs in a 3D map of the city.

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I only saw a handful of events at Ottawa Architecture Week, but I witnessed plenty of youth engaging with their city in ways that were relevant to them. OAW was just one event in one city, around a specific topic, but there are many events, volunteer programs and organizations across Canada for who engaged youth is their source of power.

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The idea that young people aren`t interested in changing the world around them is nothing but a tired fantasy. They may need encouragement to use a ballot box as a way to achieve this, but if we take the time to listen to them we will understand that they really want to make a difference.

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When I was 6 years old I told relatives that Montreal`s Champlain Bridge was poorly built. Turns out I was right.

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We should listen to our youth. They know what they’re talking about.

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