Youth policies, views on participatory budgeting and the immense benefits of speaking to young people in the right way were presented last Friday at the European Youth Friendly Cities Conference in Thessaloniki.
Host of the conference, Mr. Babis Papaioannou, Executive Director, Thessaloniki 2014 European Youth Capital stressed in his welcoming speech that four years after bearing the European Youth Capital Title, the legacy of it is still alive in Thessaloniki
Mr András Farkas, Secretary General of the Network of European Youth Capitals and project coordinator of Com’On Europe shared his thoughts on how approaching the young people should be adapted to the technology they use and by precisely knowing their needs and desires. He also presented a view on what could be achieved through the entire European Union, if adequate youth policies are adopted and implemented through the member states.
Ms. Kristen Aigro, Vice President of the European Youth Forum explained that in the European Youth Strategy, young people get focused on in not very obvious areas, too – for example, while education is a key area, they are also being involved in environmental topics. She also brought examples from recent elections across the EU that speaking out to young people really gets them involved in public matters. The European Youth Forum will soon publish a detailed study on this matter.
Mr. Manel Sanchez, Director of the European Youth Card Association presented the benefits of the EYC, stressing that they aim to reach all young people, not only those who are in organisations. The card, which is available in 36 countries, facilitates youth mobility across Europe, provides various discounts and a point system – for example, rewards when buying a healthy lunch using the card – to the 7 million card-bearers.
Mr. Carlos Santos, Programme Coordinator of 100% Youth City Quality Label explained the steps and measures that a city can take in order to become 100% Youth Friendly. These include Youth Sector Financial support, Youth Infrastructures and Technical support, Municipality Youth Councils and co-management and a Strategic Youth Development Plan.
Mayor Yiannis Boutaris sent a welcome message to the participants of the conference and announced through this that Thessaloniki will create a youth city council and implement Youth Participatory Budgeting, which will be a pilot edition for more cities in Greece to join.
Rodrigo Melo e Castro, representing Cascais, Portugal (EYC 2018) explained the concept of Cascais called Glocal, which aims to create relationships between local and international, while seeing young people as an engine for local economics development. The program of Cascais 2018 also encourages intergenerational dialogue and different departments working together on integrating youth policies.
Ms. Valentina Antić , coordinator of Novi Sad programme OPENS2019 presented the importance of the European Youth Capital title in Serbia’s efforts in joining the European Union. She stressed that they had several conditions towards the municipality before running for the title, including a youth strategy and a youth centre, and they had already got them fulfilled.
Ms. Gwenaelle Cluet Lia, representing Amiens EYC 2020 presented some of the key elements of their programme. For example, they will have a special focus on the disabled young people and they will organise „a day without Europe” to show the importance of being a member of the European community.
Mr. Michael Carty, on behalf of Cambridge ESOL presented the competitions they organise in English. The aim is to organise the finals every year in the current European Youth Capital.
In the second part of the thematic session, five former Youth Capitals presented different aspects that their city had accomplished. Mr. Mauro Capella from Torino (EYC 2010) spoke about how they transform desolated urban spaces into young friendly ones, including industrial sites, that young people can use for various activities. Mr. Željko Milovanovič presented an apparently simple, but very efficient tool that they developed: Mladi Maribor (Young Maribor), a website that aggregates all events going on in the city (EYC 2013), and young people are using it all the time.
Mr. Ovidiu Cîmpean from Cluj-Napoca (EYC 2015) spoke about the steps the municipality took towards becoming a smart city: from the modern public lighting to the automations and online means of paying for parking, bus tickets, taxes, etc. Mr. Mushfig Jafarov from Ganja (EYC 2016) presented the city’s focus on sports in the context of being European Sports Capital in 2019, a city in which ¼ of the population practices some form of sport and where they are encouraging both professional and recreational sports. Mr. Mircho Stoykov Hristov from Varna spoke about the legacy of the title, half a year after it was handed over.
In addition to the conference, PONT Group and UNESCO Youth Club of Thessaloniki did a survey in the framework of the ComOn Europe in Thessaloniki just before the conference in order to find out young people’s view on their city. The results from 609 respondents were presented by Mr. András Farkas.
The main point was that over 80% of them viewed their city as a youthful one. No other city where similar surveys were conducted (former EYCs and Romanian cities) showed such a high percent in the perception of youthfulness.
Other aspects that the respondents rated highly included how smart, how innovative, how open and how inclusive Thessaloniki is. They were more divided on the perception of the health or cleanliness of the city.
Com’On Europe is a project that connects two specific aspects, youth participation and participatory budgeting. The goal of this project is to create an open source framework for European cities in implementing participatory budgeting processes, which address young people not just as creators and initiators but also as decision makers themselves and a platform for cooperation between cities which applied similar processes or are willing to apply it in the near future. The general objective of this project is to contribute to the improvement of civic participation of young people in local life through local level participatory budgeting mechanisms.
All partners are representing European Youth Capital title-bearer cities like Torino 2010, Braga 2012, Maribor 2013, Thessaloniki 2014, Cluj-Napoca 2015, Varna 2017 and Cascais 2018. These are all currently active cities in the Network of European Youth Capitals, all of them coming from member states of the European Union.
Photo credit: www.life-events.gr