Youth and Cities

Urbanization is the engine that propels the world towards prosperity in the 21st century and youth are the engineers. Youth are society’s most essential and dynamic human resource. Today, there are 1.2 billion young people aged 15 to 24 years, accounting for 16 per cent of the global population. By 2030—the target date for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that make up the 2030 Agenda—the number of youth is projected to have grown by 7 per cent, to nearly 1.3 billion.

These youth live, by and large, in cities and towns; the cities of the developing world account for over 90% of the world’s urban growth and youth account for a large percentage of those inhabitants. It is estimated that as many as 60% of all urban dwellers will be under the age of 18 by 2030.

Partnering with Youth and Cities

UN-Habitat is one of the preeminent international agencies working on urban youth policy, research, and programming. Historically, youth have not been seen as a demographic important enough to engage in decision-making —this is especially true for the world’s most youthful regions such as Africa. Yet there has been a growing understanding and concern over the declining socio-economic situation of young people and their lack of livelihood opportunities. Youth often grow up in poverty and they are excluded from the economic, political, and social life of their countries, which in turn breeds disillusionment and hopelessness, violence, and upheaval. 

Youth are in the most productive times of their lives can leverage the “urban advantage”, a concept relating to the abundance of goods, services such as health, recreation and education, amenities, and opportunities found in cities. No country has achieved any level of prosperity without urbanization; cities account for approximately 70% of global GDP, and as much as 55% of the GDP in low-income countries. It is anticipated that 80% of future economic growth will take place in cities. With youth globally being the best educated in history, they are well positioned to leverage.

One-stop model for urban youth development

Though youth are vital to the prosperity of cities in the developing world, they still face many barriers — most notably underemployment and unemployment, and a lack of access to basic services such as healthcare and education — which prevent them from reaching their potential. UN-Habitat has worked with cities globally to overcome these barriers through the development of programmes that achieve three key objectives:

  • Improve youths’ livelihoods by increasing their employability
  • Decrease their vulnerabilities
  • Integrate them fully into the economic and social life of the city

These programmes assist youth to become leaders in their communities and to lead healthy and productive lives. 

Over the past two decades UN-Habitat has established, together with its partners, One-stop Youth Resource Centres (One Stops) in cities across Africa, Asia and Latin America. Each “One-stop Centre” is unique in the programmes it delivers, responding to the needs of the local youth population. Its core programmes are sports and recreation, job skills and entrepreneurship training, health services such as HIV/AIDS testing and counseling, and support for youth-led governance and planning. The “One-stops” are built on partnerships between UN-Habitat and the local government, civil society, youth, and the private sector to develop programmes which respond to the needs of the youth.