I started engaging with youth demography some years ago when I volunteered to decode urban data related to youths in Nairobi. We were part of a global team decoding how some major cities across the world are seen by youths. The results are remarkable. See a summary here.
Before delving deeper though, what makes a city youthful? Is it about the infrastructure or the number of young people in it or how many youth clubs exist in it? While all these attributes may somehow add up, but they don’t answer the whole question.
Many millennials around the world believe that the attitude of the city and the youths in it tell how youthful a city is. So yeah, attitude is a big thing and we have lots of that in Abuja, tongue-in-cheek. Youths want to see how their city leaders are factoring them into planning and design decisions.
All urban attributes should be perceived suitable to make a city nice to live, work and play for young people. What constitutes work, play and living are several things, as pictured below. In general, for youths to call a place youthful, they have to city it as dynamic, curious, open, connected, inventive and playful (as stated by more than 15,000 youths in Youthful Cities Survey, 2016).
In retrospection, I realized that I made the conscious decision to move to Abuja, the city I did did my secondary school education for 6 years, 5 years after I left. I was working for my dad as a construction engineer in Kebbi State when I decided to discontinue it and start a life in Abuja as a youth service corp member (I always feel pity when I see corp members walking on the streets of Abuja now. Retrospection). On a number of times, I hear about the urban enthusiasm by those currently living outside Abuja to migrate here. There aren’t much well planned cities in the world like Abuja.
Anyway so I moved here without pinning my decisions on issues like affordability, transportation and suitability for youths. All much I knew was construction was booming here and I wanted to reconnect with the city and my friends. So basically, it was a decision based on economic opportunities and better exposure to engineering work and the networking life.
Fast forwards, living in Nigeria’s capital city, I have often found myself in situations where I asked how youthful is the city. Not just in terms of urban youthful population (how many of us are here by the way, 1 million? When is the census taking place?), but on the most important things that matter; affordability, transportation, economic opportunities, civic engagement (J, most of us are millennials, we like organizing events). How city amenities like parks and other public spaces favour youth lifestyle, how the events and causes pursued here connect to youths and how much youth civic engagement there is.
I have chosen to discuss in brief, a few of the urban attributes over 15, 000 people answered to what makes their city youthful; affordability, transportation and start-up hotspots. The latter wasn’t discussed explicitly by the survey, but I sought of combined the employment and entrepreneurship aspect mentioned in the survey to discuss it in here.
According to Mercer Consulting ranking of most expensive cities to live in the world, Abuja is the 50th and second after Lagos in Nigeria. Even if those rankings are not accurate enough, Abuja is more expensive than many other cities; rent, food stuff, education, transit, bottle of water, cucumbers, car spare parts, etc. Typically, you might hear people say the city is not the best place to start life as a young (especially married) person, when you think about a decent place to live, medical costs and education and saving income for a rainy day. The Youthful Cities Survey found at that all the cities surveyed globally performed poorly on affordability.
Any way how expensive is expensive? Or how affordable is affordable housing? According to The Economic Times, it refers to housing units that are affordable by that section of the economy whose income is below the median household income. In plain terms, majority of the population should be able to afford the houses at market prices, which I do not see happening in Abuja anytime soon. Thanks to inflated prices of lands and a very low disposable income by majority of the urban dwellers.
When you look at the large number of youths living here, you ask how many of them are earning an average actual gross income of more than a million naira. Majority of the jobs here I will conclude are jobs offered by the government. An average annual gross income of an entry level government job is less than a million naira. Takeaway the rent of one year and you have just little left to keep the wolf from the door.
How many of the youths have these jobs that pay peanuts and how many join the larger percentage of unemployed? Many people live with relatives/parents for free or resort to living on the satellite towns (suburban) which is understandable. This fuels the major reason why the urbanization of our cities comes with slum conditions; more people will be crammed up in rooms suitable for a few people.
In many cities of developed countries, they have initiatives of social housing. This is when the low earning marginal families get hugely subsidized house rents for a long period of time till they start earning more. Such initiatives for youths should be done.
Getting Around the City/Transportation
Abuja is the one place where having a car is a necessity. With the beautiful planned road network and less condensed district developments, it is a long commute going from one neighbourhood to another. No dedicated bike lanes or presence of pedestrian footpaths everywhere and zebra crossings aren’t respected. There is an organized mysterious bus and taxi ‘along’ lines and not cheap drop (chauffeured) options. A greater percentage of one’s income after rent maybe spent on commute reasons such as work and business. Public transportation is not convenient with more people crammed into small spaces (if you have claustrophobia, am not sure how you will move).
What does getting around have to do with youths? Everything.
Starting out at that age, most of us do not have the luxury of owning a car. Inevitably leaving us with the inefficient public transportation option. Uber doesn’t come cheap and affordable, unfortunately. There are no Uberpool options for Abuja, yet. Other car sharing apps like Lyft and new Taxify aren’t affordable for youths.
The government only has buses for its staff that are mostly outside the city core. Getting into those buses can be competitive, especially when you have to leave work earlier and come to queue at the bus. There are no government owned buses traversing the city inner core. With the few coming from the satellite areas and far away towns like Gwagwalada, popularly called Elrufai Bus; they don’t come with a discounted monthly pass. As such, one is left to pay the same amount every day for the entire time he or she traverses that road.
Cities have been judged to be the next economic engines of a country. Owning to the better living conditions, cities globally are attractive clusters for entrepreneurs and innovative millennials. As such, youths should be seen launching start-ups every now and then. Abuja has 6 of those business accelerators/incubators I know of; Abuja Enterprise Agency (government owned), Enspire, Box Office, Andela, Ventures Platform and Civic Innovation Lab (yet to launch an incubation programme). However, other entrepreneurial programmes/seminars/workshops are held month in month out by different organizations. Hence, offering opportunities for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Many youths are going the traditional way of starting on their own and learning on the job. A lot have become makeup artists, bakers, footwear sellers and makers, fashion designers, food makers and food delivery, and a bunch of other basic commodities. At least in two months, one open air market is held in the city. How much they are surviving and struggling, is still not fully understandable.
These city attributes are just a few of what should be considered. More options for living, social life, work, play should be considered. I would love to see a youth-focused economic plan for cities in Nigeria. This translates to how serious and youth-minded the government is about leveraging on the energy, talent and number of youths they have. The numbers should help drive a youthification of economic plans for the city and country at large.
How youthful do you think your city is? Are you living in Abuja and have often wondered how you fit into the city and vice versa? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.