Ten years of boosting vibrant youthful cities
By Kristen Aigro, Board Member, European Youth Forum
A milestone like a 10th anniversary is a good moment to take a step back and reflect: What is the role of cities in building the European project? Why do we need local and regional authorities to work more closely with young people? How to empower young people to be active members of their society? These were the questions that guided young people and youth organisations from across Europe in 2007 at the Council of Members of the European Youth Forum. They adopted the “Resolution on an annual European Youth Capital”. This was the moment that the title saw the light of the day. The questions debated by young people then, are still highly relevant, if not more so.
The elevator speech before we continue
The "European Youth Capital" is the title awarded to a European city for the period of one year. The city is given the chance to showcase, through a multi-faceted programme, its youth-related cultural, social, political and economic life and development. The EYC initiative encourages the implementation of new ideas and innovative projects, with regard to active participation of young people in society, and seeks to present a role model for the further development of youth policies in other European municipalities.
A short walk down memory lane
Rotterdam became the first ever European Youth Capital followed by many more in the period of ten years since the title has been established. Throughout the years municipalities working hand in hand with young people became actors of change in their communities and beyond: all across Europe in Turin, Antwerp, Braga, Maribor, Thessaloniki, Cluj-Napoca, Ganja, Varna and Cascais became the champions for young people, while Novi Sad and Amiens are still waiting for their turn to host the title.
But…why the European Youth Capital?
In 2007 youth leaders from across Europe referred to the need to strengthen the relationship between European institutions and the local level, including around common objectives regarding youth policy. How to empower young people, boost youth participation and strengthen European identity? Over the past ten years the European Youth Capital title accomplished unexpected heights: created new participatory mechanisms for young people to meaningfully contribute to decision making processes, provided opportunities for young people to better experience and understand what it means to be European, built infrastructure not only benefiting young people but the whole community, just to name a few. But of course the work to #YouthUp European cities is nowhere near done.
Ten years later and so much more to do
We need the changes brought by the European Youth Capital title to reach all young people in Europe. Despite the fact that the current generation of youth is the most pro European, many young people still do not see the benefits of being European and don’t have much of a connection to an European identity. There is still an absolute necessity to continue fostering European citizenship based on values, such as freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. Connecting to it has to be done first and furthermost at the local level that is closest to people.
An integral part of European citizenship is an active participation of young people on local, national and European level. In the framework of the European Youth Capital youth organisations are cooperating with municipalities. Here they together create opportunities for organised and non-organised youth to take part in decision-making processes, to be able to bring their ideas to the table, have officials discuss them and create positive change in their communities.
Good practice: Com’On Europe
One of the most recent examples of such practices is the project Com’On Europe that is carried out by the Network of European Youth Capitals, which unites a group of past, present and future European Youth Capitals and aims at facilitating the exchange of best practices. Com’On Europe is a project on participatory budgeting for youth, where young people are given an opportunity to not only present their ideas on where a part of public money should be spent but also by voting and having the power to decide. These are admirable efforts by European Youth Capitals to continue working for and with young people enabling them to actually contribute to positive developments on local level and not only. This is just one example of the many projects former capitals continue to implement around Europe for youth.
The future of the European Youth Capital title
The European Youth Capital title aims for long lasting impact and legacy that brings structural change to the mindsets of politicians, institutions and young people. In the long run being the European Youth Capital helps different actors, but most importantly youth, to identify themselves more as Europeans, empower them as actors in their communities, to open their minds to the different, it connects youth across borders, challenges them and allows to experiment. It is all a part of social, economic, cultural and political development that the title has been bringing to the cities for already ten years and will continue doing so in the future.
What’s on the European Youth Capital’s agenda for the upcoming five, ten or even twenty years? There are about 150,000 local and regional authorities in 47 member countries of the Council of Europe (Council of European Municipalities and Regions), so of course we aim to reach out to more European cities, as there are a number of benefits that the title brings to municipalities, their young people and to the rest of Europe. It is not just the title, even the process of applying to become the European Youth Capital itself contributes to positive developments at the city level in terms of improving youth participation mechanisms by applying common European objectives regarding youth policy, unleashing youth activism, building partnerships and valuable networks on local, national and international level, as well as raising the profile of the municipality among key institutional stakeholders and general public.
The local laboratory for youth participation
The European Youth Capital will continue being a laboratory for youth participation where cities and young people across Europe are encouraged to apply existing best practices to their local context but most importantly to be creative and innovative in developing new ways for youth participation and engagement to create positive change for themselves but also to stand as an inspiration to other cities across the continent.
At the ten year mark, we look back to all that has been achieved for and with youth in the cities holding the European Youth Capital title. It has proven to be more successful than intended and that of course raises the stakes going forward and makes this anniversary one where we set hopes of seeing the next ten years unlocking the further potential of the project to #YouthUp cities across Europe.