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Will Steel: Young professionals making an impact on the global stage

The Commonwealth Youth for Sustainable Urbanisation network

Will is a Chartered Town Planner and Principal Planning Consultant for AtkinsRéalis. He is currently Chair for RTPI Yorkshire and is a steering group member for the Commonwealth Association of Planners Young Planners, as well as Commonwealth Youth for Sustainable Urbanisation. Will is currently working on infrastructure projects of national significance and has presented at several international conferences, including COP 27 and COP 28.


The importance of planning for rapid urbanisation and youth engagement in The Commonwealth is emphasised by the following statistics:

  • By 2050 an additional 2.5 billion people will be living in the world’s towns and cities, with over 50% of that growth taking place in Commonwealth Member States; and
  • 60% of the population of The Commonwealth comprises young people under the age of 30.

The Commonwealth Youth for Sustainable Urbanisation (CYSU) network was formed in response to the Commonwealth Sustainable Cities Initiative’s (CSCI’s) Call to Action on Sustainable Urbanisation across The Commonwealth. The CYSU steering committee and active volunteers include young professionals from across the globe working across numerous sectors who influence the built environment, collaborating to generate and share innovative practices and ideas. The Commonwealth Association of Planners (CAP) Young Planners plays a key role in the CYSU steering group.

The CYSU network was officially launched at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2022. Members of the CYSU steering group travelled to Kigali in Rwanda for CHOGM, where they presented to Ministers from across The Commonwealth on the importance of sustainable urbanisation and youth engagement in sustainable development issues. The work of CYSU, supporting the CSCI, helped to achieve an agreement among Commonwealth Member States to a declaration on sustainable urbanisation, and for 2023 and 2024 to include a Commonwealth Year of Youth initiative.

During November 2022, CYSU also hosted events at COP 27 in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. This included hosting events at the first ever Children and Youth pavilion to be included at a COP event.

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CYSU at CHOGM, 2022

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CYSU at COP 27 in 2022

The membership of CYSU then increased rapidly, reflecting the demand for the initiative. CYSU steering group members then went on to host events in different parts of the world during 2023, including participating in COP 28 in Dubai during December 2023.

The multi-disciplinary nature of the CYSU group has served to broaden the scope of opportunities to host events and to collaborate with different organisations. The wide breadth of perspectives within CYSU, combined with wide areas of geographical representation, has helped the group to provide a unique perspective on youth engagement and sustainable urbanisation. CYSU also serves as an example of how such youth groups can be set up and expanded by young people themselves. A governance structure was set up by the steering committee, who then developed the partnerships and event opportunities for the group.

CYSU continues to promote youth engagement and sustainable urbanisation, and the next steps for the CSCI and the Call to Action on Sustainable Urbanisation will be discussed during CHOGM 2024 in Samoa this October.

One example of an ongoing CYSU initiative, which is being led by the CAP Young Planners arm of CYSU, is Cities by Citizens. This initiative seeks to enhance local stakeholder engagement through Planning, and to promote inclusivity in sustainable development issues. Research is currently being carried out on the needs of communities and how we can bridge the gap between communities’ needs and those of developers and investors. A survey is currently being shared, seeking to gain an insight into the needs of communities. The findings of the ongoing research will be reflected in a toolkit for Cities by Citizens.

CYSU demonstrates the demand for multi-disciplinary youth groups promoting sustainable development issues, as well as the central role which Planners can play in such groups. CYSU has enabled young professionals to amplify their voices on sustainable development issues, and young planners to promote Planning on a global stage. 

Call to action:

  • Get involved in CYSU and help to shape and progress the initiative.
  • Any contributions towards the Cities by Citizens research would be much appreciated, whether through completing the online survey described above or by relaying any projects or research which you wish to be expressed in the Cities by Citizens toolkit.
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