Original by BRIGITTE PELLERIN

PRESS: A sense of community and personal connection

How youthful do you think Ottawa is? I have the answer. It’s 760.91. I trust that makes you proud.

That number is the result of the 2018 Index survey done by Youthful Cities. A city’s score is measured according to how it does on six criteria: openness, dynamicity (it’s like dynamism but for cities, I guess), inventiveness, playfulness, connectivity and curiosity. Ottawa is fourth in the country, right behind Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal but ahead of Edmonton, Calgary and Quebec City.

Photo by WAYNE CUDDINGTON

 

A high score doesn’t mean a city has an especially high number of young people, just that it has lots of youthfulness. It’s not an age thing so much as an attitude thing. That makes my grey hair happy.

The report anchored an event organized by Synapcity at City Hall last Thursday. I spent a lovely few hours there, surrounded by young people as well as a couple of older ones who came to talk about what it would take to make Ottawa even more youthful. The atmosphere was fresh and vibrant, hopeful and lively. A teacher from nearby Immaculata High School had taken her Grade 10 civics class and I enjoyed hearing their views on how they see life in the city we all share.

The room was divided into six large tables, one for each of the youthfulness criteria. We took turns discussing the criteria and any other ideas around them that might make Ottawa better for young people of all ages.

I was especially impressed by how much importance teenagers placed on interpersonal connections, a sense of community, good vibes, respect for others and diversity, openness to new ideas and a concern to make sure everyone felt welcome in our town no matter who they are or how much money they have. I was surprised when the discussion turned to how technology can make us incurious and less connected when so many people are sucking their screens. Amazingly, although I’m sure all these young people owned phones, they spent the morning engaged in face-to-face discussions without getting lost in their devices. They did a lot better than yours truly on that score, and, uh, well yes. Sorry.

I was … impressed by how much importance teenagers placed on interpersonal connections, a sense of community, good vibes, respect for others and diversity, openness to new ideas and a concern to make sure everyone felt welcome in our town.

What especially got my attention was the constant focus, throughout all discussions regardless of the youthfulness criterion discussed, on the importance of affordable mobility. Lack of mobility makes you less curious, they said, but also much less connected, or playful, come to think of it. Young people who are too young to drive (or choose not to) rely on transit to an inordinate degree, and not all of them live in the core. Where they live is often not up to them, and they don’t think it’s fair to ask their parents to ferry them around all the time. Uber is a game changer for those who like to go to concerts and stay out late, but it’s a pricey one for everyday mobility.

According to the survey from Youthful Cities, Ottawa is doing very well on public transit. This might surprise a few OC Transpo users, but the data show “Ottawa has the highest number of hours of dedicated public transit per week in Canada.” Good. But we can, and should, do better.

We all know we’re too dependent on cars and that gridlock is getting in the way of our health and happiness. There’s hope. None of the young people I talked to said they looked forward to owning one. When asked how likely they are to live in the suburbs and commute to work by car every single day, they returned blank stares. Maybe they were too polite to say what was on their mind.

If you’re older and somewhat fearful of what effrontery youngsters might be plotting for your final years, I’m here to reassure you that these students are anything but revolutionaries. They are sensible, open to new ideas, and very keen to live in an open, hopeful, healthy and welcoming society. The kids, they are alright.

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