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How Can Cities support Young People Though Social Innovation?

Edited on

23 February 2015
Read time: 2 minutes

Cities are full of opportunities for young people. However, transition to adult life is not always a smooth process and the current youth unemployment crisis threatens to increase the number of disengaged young people in our cities. Eddy Adams, URBACT Thematic Pole Manager on Active Inclusion and Robert Arnkil, Lead Expert of the URBACT My Generation at work project, tackle this issue in their recent article "PDF iconWS3_social_innovation.pdf” published in the latest issue of the PDF iconURBACT_Tribune_2012.pdf.

This article draws upon the URBACT workstream "Supporting young people through social innovation" evidence of the ways in which cities are responding. In particular, it explores the concept of social innovation and the opportunities this can offer in relation to stimulating civic participation amongst the young.

The challenge of youth in the cohesive city

The authors explain that rising youth unemployment rates across much of Europe have prompted fears of a "Lost generation". In the member states with more stable economies, youth joblessness is rising in many cities – doubling to 6.7% in Copenhagen and to 13% in Berlin. In southern cities the pain is more acute, for example in Barcelona where 35% of young people are jobless.

But the youth crisis facing cities is not new. Data shows that even during the years of growth, a persistent minority of young people were out of the labour market and disconnected from mainstream society. According to Eddy Adams and Robert Arnkil, this suggests deep structural problems relating to youth transitions to adulthood.

City choices and the role of social innovation

What can cities do in response to this situation? Some are continuing as before, only with fewer resources, pursuing a policy of cutback management. However, a growing number see the need to respond more dramatically. In some cases, radical change involves a top-down approach. For example, in the Berlin district of Marzahn, a new Mayor has introduced a commitment to reduce youth unemployment to 0% between 2013 and 2016. At the other hand of the spectrum, momentum is building around cities looking to work in new collaborative models with customers, communities and a wider range of service providers – very much in line with URBACT model, which underlines the partnership approach. In addition tor reduced public budgets, the drivers behind this include a growing commitment to user-shaped service design, particularly around support for the most vulnerable residents.

It is said in this article that the umbrella term 'Social Innovation' is increasingly used to describe this eclectic and organic range of developments, although interpretations of this vary. The European Commission is strongly promoting social innovation as an important component in Europe's recovery. The design, development and implementation of new services to address our biggest challenges – ageing population, lack of jobs, youth alienation -  - is widely identified as a high priority.

The city response

According to the authors of this article, social innovation involves a process of exploration and collaborative development. There is no single template that can be transferred between cities.

The URBACT workstream activities suggest that there are shared features between cities that are involved in pushing this change agenda including:
1.  New civic leadership
2.  Mobilising people and resources
3.  Building new delivery partnerships

Examples of cities with new collaborative work such as Copenhagen or Rotterdam are detailed in the article.

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