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Simeon Shtebunaev: Youth step up on the global planning stage

Simeon Shtebunaev is an interdisciplinary doctoral researcher at Birmingham City University, researching how young people engage in the planning of future 'smart' cities. He was a PI on the AHRC funded project “Are you game for climate action?” developing the boardgame Climania with young people focusing on the role of the built environment in climate change. Simeon was selected as the RIBAJ Rising Star 2021 and RTPI West Midlands Young Planner of the Year 2021. 


Multilateral conferences are back on the global stage in 2022 after the pandemic lull. In June, two major events relevant to planners took place – The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, Rwanda and the 11th World Urban Forum (WUF11) held in Katowice, Poland. As usual CHOGM included a Youth Forum. However, whereas the 2018 forum I attended in London included barely any mention to planning and built environment, the Kigali Youth Forum had a dedicated stream. Similarly, WUF11 organised by UN Habitat was the first such forum to include a Youth Council and to feature youth-led events in a significant way. Sustainable Urbanisation was at the heart of both conferences, reflected in the Kigali Commitment adopted signed at Rwanda and the status of UN Habitat as custodian of SDG 11. The ripples are sensible, as G7 countries at their most recent meeting committed to develop best practice on sustainable urban development.  Collaboration across borders is key to tackle climate change at all levels of professional experience and at CHOGM we launched the 13th official Commonwealth Youth Network - Commonwealth Youth for Sustainable Urbanisation. I represented the network at WUF11 and was met with warm welcome by stakeholders from across the world.

Image shows Simeon Shtebunaev, Olafiyin Taiwo and Alice Preston-Jones at WUF11


Launch of Commonwealth Youth for Sustainable Urbanisation At CHOGM2022

Call to Action on Sustainable Urbanisation

The creation of the network was in response to the Call to Action on Sustainable Urbanisation across the Commonwealth, launched in 2021 by the Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Initiative (a multidisciplinary partnership group of Commonwealth partners comprising the Association of Commonwealth Universities, the Commonwealth Association of Architects, the Commonwealth Association of Planners and the Commonwealth Local Government Forum) which acknowledges the importance of youth in sustainable urbanisation. The network builds on the Youth Manifesto for Sustainable Urbanism we launched at CHOGM 2018, London which the RTPI supported and has also included the Commonwealth Engineers Council representatives.

Call to Action for Sustainable Urbanisation Panel at WUF11

What are the priorities of the youth network?

The network is innovative as it embeds at its heart the need to foster interdisciplinary dialogue between young professionals across sectors in the built environment, academia and local government. On the Steering Group committee my colleagues include engineers, planners, architects, academics, young, elected mayors and city officials! Effective collaboration and leadership were one of the key themes emerging from the two international forums – to achieve the Decade of Action and translate the goals of the SDGs into policy will require more than the traditional siloed thinking. The network aims to mobilise professional youth across the Commonwealth to work towards developing standards for youth-friendly sustainable urbanisation, empower and build capacity to support sustainable urbanisation process and provide an opportunity to youth across different disciplines and constituencies to come together and exchange knowledge.  We want to communicate the importance of youth-aware urbanisation and integrate a diverse youth voice into Commonwealth policy and programmes dealing with urban and spatial planning.

Why does it matter we involve youth?

More than half of the population of the Commonwealth is young people under the age of 30. Well managed human settlements are key drivers of climate change solutions, economic development, innovation and entrepreneurship, and sources of employment underpinned by the activities of young people, who largely still lack a seat at the decision-making table. Localisation of the SDGs into planning policies cannot be delivered if the youth population is not engaged and taken on board in the process. Our vision is for highly engaged youth caucus across the constituent countries which can drive a much more action-oriented planning profession.

The CYSU includes by default all RTPI members who wish to engage with the network, as part of the Commonwealth Institute of Planners. I would encourage you to join or forward this to your colleagues interested in exchanging knowledge and working internationally.

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