Vancouver Parks Board Commissioner Sarah Blyth recently passed a motion that will allow youth to be involved in the process of developing parks. Blyth is an innovative leader in the field of youth engagement. She was a founder of the Vancouver Skateboard Coalition and she is an inspiring mentor, who I am grateful to know.
The youth participation motion passed by Blyth is extremely important. My opinion on this issue is informed by the experience of being a disengaged youth and then transforming through the experience of being heard.
When I was young, I was an “at-risk” youth. I grew-up in a single parent home and my family encountered some dangerous circumstances. When the police failed to protect my family, I became disengaged.
At the age of fourteen, I sought protection from amateur thugs in East Vancouver, as a last resort. I found myself surrounded by puma tracksuits, girls with dark lip-liner and Mobb Deep music. I listened to them talk about robbing stores and brawling rival thugs with blunt objects. Fortunately, I didn’t commit crimes or accept any offers from drug pushers and wanna-be pimps. I stayed out of the “game” enough to escape unscathed.
Unfortunately, I have known too many "at-risk" youth who felt unheard and unprotected. Most of these kids ended up dead, in prison, addicted to drugs or working in the sex-trade industry.
When I was fifteen, my mom pulled together resources and sent me away to the Kootenays to attend outdoor school. I was safe out there. I began to heal. I became a hippy, and I’ve been all about revolution ever since.
When I returned to Vancouver, I wanted to be involved in anything that involved positive change. I attended an alternative school called “Total Education”, that was founded by hippies, and I participated in a program called “Leave Out Violence” (L.O.V.E.).
During this time, I realized how important it is for youth to be heard. I also realized that there are a lot of police and politicians who want what I want: a safer city.
I have encountered countless people who are baffled by the issue of disengaged youth. One simple remedy I would like to see used more frequently involves simply sitting and listening to these kids.
If we are going to encourage youth to use parks and engage in healthy activities, it makes sense to provide them with the opportunity to plan these spaces with city planners. We can create a conversation with them and allow them to translate creative thought into a tangible outcome. This conversation will also foster a relationship between youth and the city, so that youth can create innovation from within the system.
Listening to our youth is the most important thing we can do. If we don’t listen to our youth, we aren’t giving them enough reason to listen to us.