Results from a survey conducted in the summer of 2021 asking youth in Simcoe County what they envision for the future.
One goal was to address a gap in the County’s Municipal Comprehensive Review engagement, which did not include voices of youth. The MCR is planning for the communities that today’s youth will inherit, after all.
The Youth Vision of Simcoe County Survey was a collaboration between Simcoe County Greenbelt Coalition (SCGC) and Simcoe County Environmental Youth Alliance (SCEYA) over the summer and fall of 2021. The intention of the survey was to get an indication of where Simcoe County youth are at with regards to climate action, barriers to engaging in their communities, and their visions for the future of their communities.
This was an informal community survey to inform how local organizations can help eliminate barriers that youth are facing to engaging in community organizations, local government and climate action generally.
The results of this survey are not generalizable, nor is this intended to be a formal, academic study. The survey was promoted through social media, word of mouth and reaching out to community organizations, local libraries and schools.
The survey had 162 respondents. No contact information was collected from participants to ensure the anonymity of the youth who completed the survey.
We know that young people globally are facing severe mental health challenges because of the climate emergency, and according to more recent research1Young People’s Voices on Climate Anxiety, Government Betrayal and Moral Injury: A Global Phenomenon, these mental health challenges have been linked to government inaction.
Climate action must be part of addressing the mental health crisis that is impacting youth here in Simcoe County.
Considering that Ontario is not even feeling the worst of the coming impacts of climate change yet2Canada in a Changing Climate: National Issues Report, this is particularly concerning. Young people are recognizing that the climate emergency is here, now.
Youth who were not involved in climate action often faced barriers to meaningful participation:
In light of Simcoe County’s municipalities undergoing major planning decisions via Municipal Comprehensive Reviews (MCRs) at the time of the survey, we asked youth about some of their priorities regarding planning decisions:
For municipalities in particular, meaningfully involving youth in planning processes can have co-benefits, including health outcomes and academic performance3Planning for Sustainable Happiness: Harmonizing Our Internal and External Landscapes. Rethinking Development: 2nd International Conference on Gross National Happiness.(PDF)4Planning for and with children and youth: insights from children about happiness, well-being and walking.(PDF).
We asked youth to rank the importance of different aspects of community life that reflect the Complete Communities envisioned in Ontario’s Growth Plan:
This implies that the smart growth policies our municipalities should be pursuing to conform to the Growth Plan, lower carbon emissions and create affordable housing resonates with most young people.
Youth are concerned about the climate, want to see dramatic changes, and have a good understanding of many of the policy changes needed. This survey confirmed much of what we knew (Government of Canada, 2021), but gave some insights into where to engage local youth.
Climate action should start where youth are at, both in terms of knowledge and experience, and literally where they are at: schools, clubs, youth organizations. Future partnerships and collaborations should attempt to include organizations/groups/institutions that are directed at youth or have youth programming, in addition to supporting youth-led organizations.
Linking the interconnections between local planning, local politics, community design, etc. with the broader narrative of climate change (that many youth already know and are wanting to act on), will likely make these local actions more relevant to youth.
This will empower them to feel like they can do something in response to their low confidence in local government. Making these connections is critical in tackling an emergency with such far reaching and intersectional impacts. Awareness around the interconnections between climate and other issues, such as housing, food security or health, can help residents better understand what local climate action can look like. The more connections made, the more options and opportunities for people with various backgrounds, interests and priorities to take action where they are, so that everyone in the community can move towards climate justice.
We know from climate justice and climate education discourse that simply learning about or knowing about the impacts of climate change is not enough to move people to action. Action-oriented approaches that move from awareness to action bridge the gap and lessen feelings of apathy and distrust. Focusing resources on youth-led initiatives, roles and projects that are taken seriously is something that organizations and local governments would be wise to look into.
We hope that this project and any insights gained from it can help or motivate other organizations and local governments to build on these efforts to identify and eliminate barriers that youth face in engaging with their communities. Similarly, we recognize that a community survey is a small first step of what needs to be an ongoing process to create spaces for meaningful participation by youth in their communities, including decision making processes.
The 15-minute community (sometimes also called 15-minute ‘city’ or ‘neighbourhood’) is a vision for development that is human and community oriented. 15-minute communities are communities where the basic things we need, like groceries, workplaces, doctor’s offices, community services and childcare, are all available within a 15 minute walk or roll from home.
Greenwashing is most often thought of in terms of marketing a product. In a time when political discourse is increasingly branded and marketed, however, and when the action required to address environmental problems is increasingly at odds with what politicians seem willing or able to do, greenwashing is becoming a concern in the political sphere, too.
Our ability to create a different vision of the future opens up the paths to create those futures. Our ability to imagine these possibilities opens up what is actually possible, beyond the limits that are put on us.
With so many people experiencing disastrous events it makes sense that psychologists have seen an increase in anxiety, depression and post-traumatic-stress-disorder, especially in places that are feeling the effects of climate change right now. However, even those not directly affected by the disasters climate change is bringing are being psychologically affected by them.
Governments have failed to act to protect our communities and the futures of our children and grandchildren, and they continue to treat our environment as if it’s incidental to life, rather than a foundation for it.
We need strong community organizations to fight for our future, now more than ever.
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