Today’s under-35 Millennials are the most connected, global generation in history. They are digitally native, entrepreneurial, socially conscious, and have a preference for ‘portfolio’ multi-pronged careers rather than traditional employment, and will have up to 17 jobs in a lifetime. 
From co-working spaces to shared living and DIY public spaces to Wi-Fi hotspots, Millennials connect and collaborate in different places and spaces to previous generations. If this shift in values and lifestyle is to be the new norm, then it has huge implications for Place-making, and how we shape neighbourhoods.
But are we listening?
Two-thirds of young people feel excluded from their city, and only 16% think that their local government is listening to them . Cities rely on their young people for their economic success, current and future innovation, and long-term resilience. But alienated young people from the city and the future might as well be dead in the water.
We want to change this.
HOW MILLENNIALS ARE RESHAPING CITIES
There is a different story to tell. Millennials are transforming the way that we shape cities from the ground up with emerging examples of innovation across all aspects of city-making - from land use planning to social cohesion to disaster preparedness. This is happening in two key ways: Firstly, there are conscious young innovators who are defining new, entrepreneurial models for living, working and building community. Secondly, there is also a wider generational shift in values and lifestyle preferences, which are driving market changes.
"Millennials are transforming the way that we shape cities from the ground up with emerging examples of innovation across all aspects of city-making - from land use planning to social cohesion to disaster preparedness."
YLab, a social enterprise of the Foundation for Young Australians, is changing the way that cities work with young people. YLab identifies and connects local young innovators (YLab Associates) with subject matter experts and organisations to help cities solve emerging challenges; transforming them into places that are created with and for the future generations who will inhabit them.
Take for example The Neighbourhood Project, an initiative of CoDesign Studio, which helps local citizens transform underutilised spaces into thriving community places using tactical urbanism. This program sets out new, collaborative ways for citizens and councils to work together to deliver project outcomes faster and with fewer roadblocks. It is an example of how small changes to spaces, enabled by local citizen action, can help cities build resilience. Enspiral is another initiative that demonstrates ways that physical spaces can be connected to virtual spaces. Enspiral is a global network of co-working spaces, combined with an online digital community, enabled by its own participatory decision making and budgeting software.
"these initiatives... present a paradigm shift in the way that we need to be thinking about cities of the future: towards one that is increasingly urban, local, collaborative, transient, and digitally connected"
Collectively, these initiatives - and many other examples we don’t have space to describe here - are significant for Place-making. Not because they are youth-led, but because they present a paradigm shift in the way that we need to be thinking about cities of the future: towards one that is increasingly urban, local, collaborative, transient, and digitally connected.
Traditional approaches to planning rely on a relatively static population, where an attachment to a local place is built-up over time. Now there is a need to adapt to an increasingly mobile and transient culture, while still creating local places that are inclusive and resilient. Creating spaces and places that encourage Millennials to thrive requires an understanding of the following trends:
Place and Space: Millennials are bucking the suburban trend with a preference for urban lifestyles. They also prefer shared space over private ownership, creating opportunities for new types of shared spaces in the city;
Voice and Influence: Millennials want to co-create their neighbourhood, with a movement towards collaborative decision-making made by engaged citizens, rather than urban experts, and;
Community and Collaboration: In a time when we have never been more digitally connected, the local community is more important than ever for Millennials. Building community in a culture of transience requires creating flexible local spaces that allow for coming and going and integrated, online connection.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR PLACE-MAKING
Shaping Place-making policies, programs, and initiatives that capitalise on the enormous latent, creative potential of young people is not difficult, but it does require conscious effort to look for, ask for, and listen to local entrepreneurial initiatives. Here are five possible starting points:
1. Use tactical urbanism to enable experimentation and iteration
If the future is uncertain and we need to be flexible, then we can improve experimentation by establishing ‘test sites’ within neighbourhoods. Here new models of Placemaking can be tested using tactical urbanism, and lighter quicker cheaper solutions. For this to be effective, however, there needs to be a supportive enabling environment. For example, the City of Detroit has successfully enabled higher levels of experimentation by reducing regulation and establishing ‘pink zones’ instead of the usual red tape.
2. Create shared places that facilitate collaboration
Millennials build community in shared spaces more than anywhere else. These spaces – whether shared amenities, co-working spaces, co-living initiatives, or public spaces - provide opportunities to build community in for more transient population.
3. Enable inclusive decision-making
Co-creation is a core part of creating effective shared and public spaces, as people will only feel belonging and ownership over a place if they have also been involved in the decision-making. There is scope to see public spaces adopt a co-creation, rather than a public engagement, using participatory digital tools and place-based activities.
4. Let young people advise you
The mantra of the Foundation for Young Australians is that everyone over 30 should have a mentor under 30.
5. Foster a culture of entrepreneurship
Rather than looking to young people as another demographic to engage with, consider inviting ideas to solve local problems. Place-making doesn’t need more opinions, but could benefit from greater innovation and local leadership.
Millennials make up almost one-third of Australia’s urban population , but are not participating in shaping our cities to their full potential. Our challenge then, as Place Leaders, is not to improve youth engagement - young people are just one of many important demographics to be consulted with. Our challenge as practitioners, property developers, councils, and land managers is to better understand Millennial cultural shifts and then to partner with young people to scale and amplify existing innovation. This will enable us to build neighbourhoods that are inclusive, relevant, and future-focused.
WILL MILLENIALS TRANSFORM NEIGHBOURHOODS?
LUCINDA HARTLEY | COFOUNDER CODESIGN STUDIO , YLAB CITIES PRACTICE LEAD (THE FOUNDATION FOR YOUNG AUSTRALIANS)
issue 1. spring 2016