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Political Research Exchange - PRX

Digital Technologies and Youth Participation in Urban Change Towards Sustainability: An Analysis of the Usability, Accessibility, and Participation Experiences of the Youth in City Planning

Social Movements
Niina Meriläinen
Tampere University
Niina Meriläinen
Tampere University
Iikka Pietilä
Tampere University
Jari Varsaluoma
Tampere university of technology

Proposed for the panel: Youth and social change

This paper brings together a unique combination of research perspectives on youth participation in urban planning and urban social change, covering the areas of political science, youth studies, social movement studies, public management and pervasive computing.

Scholars in both youth studies and political science have recently become increasingly concerned over the growing political passivity and social marginalization of the youth. Questions and problems regarding the inclusion and engagement of young people in the life of an organized democracy is gaining ever new importance as we are striving to develop a more sustainable way of life on the planet, as defined by the United Nations’ Agenda 2030 objectives and, relatedly, by the impacts of the furthering climate change. Especially in view of the desired change towards more sustainable well-being and human rights for people(s) across the globe, the active citizenship, participation, and societal engagement of youth is an essential requirement of the acquired change. The involvement of youth is particularly crucial in planning future cities which will be struggling – ecologically as well as socially and politically – with the mounting concentration of population in them. Here, the fast-developing digital devices and applications, like Augmented Reality/Virtual Reality applications, may provide an important aid for the visualization and concretization of the future urban environment under change and can, arguably, also act as a motivating and inspiring factor for youth participation and also empower the youth to become active owners of their human rights.

We will approach this problematic of linking youth participation with the Agenda objectives through a pilot with a group of young people in the city of Tampere, located in southern Finland (population c. 230 000), currently set to plan an entirely new sustainable, community-friendly, and digitally smart by-the-lake neighborhood in the city. We will carry out a workshop in which the young participants (aged 16-25) experiment with selected digital technologies in planning youth-friendly public spaces in Hiedanranta, compatible with the Agenda 2030 objectives. The group is made up of young people from various backgrounds and with varying (dis)abilities, including members of the self-organized youth movements that have been squatting the area interim. Our analytical-theoretical interest is in how the workshop participants find, feel, and contemplate the usability and accessibility of the tested digital applications, how their use affects the participation experiences, and how the participants judge the possibilities and limitations of the digitalized participation aids from the perspective of the urban change towards sustainability and human rights. We will also pay close attention to possible differences in this regard in the experiences and evaluations of the activist members and the other members of the group.

The research material includes the Agenda 2030 documents, the outputs of the workshop, the interviews conducted among the workshop participants and the planning officials in charge of the Hiedanranta area, and the ethnographic reflections of the research team. Our approach is action-oriented and co-creative, and our methods of analysis are, in most part, qualitative.
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