I have been hearing lots of talk about creating a youth space in Mill Woods. Some have suggested a central space that consolidates spaces that are scattered across Mill Woods. Others have identified the library area as a key location because many youth already hang out there. Most recently, someone suggested on CBC Radio that the Mill Woods Town Centre development plan should incorporate a youth centre onsite.
I have worked with youth for most of my professional career. As a former teacher and youth coordinator managing a youth centre, I can echo definitively that dedicated spaces for youth are critical for their wellbeing. Dedicated space, whether new or existing infrastructure, signals to the youth the importance of their role in the community, that they do not always need to make do with what limited resources they have. While seniors are a significant population in Ward 11, youth are a growing demographic.
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In Mill Woods, a youth collaborative has been formed to lead the #RealMillWoods campaign, which focuses on dispelling problematic behaviour and promoting positive youth development in the area. Based on the youth collaborative’s research, the perception of youth engaging in risky behaviours such as smoking, drinking and substance misuse is far more inflated than reality. Not all youth engage in risky behaviours, and there is much opportunity for bridge-building to improve understanding.
Many youth already hang out at the Mill Woods Library, Mill Woods Town Centre, transit centre, and recreation centre. A dedicated youth space could serve as a hub not only for after-school programming for students, but also for young adults in terms of employment and life skill training. It could also serve as a general gathering place for youth-oriented activities in arts, culture, social justice, education, etc., as well as a central meeting place. Moreover, youth involvement imparts ownership and buy-in in planning and operating, providing valuable opportunities for training as well.
Not only are youth spaces important, dynamic staff members with experience working with youth are also important, which does not necessarily require new resources or funding. For example, the downtown Stanley A. Milner library location has trained social workers to reach out to those in need. Similarly, dynamic workers in the library or community centres in the area could engage youth, develop relationships, involve them in activities for community building ,and opportunities for mentorship and youth leadership.
Alternatively, we can connect better with existing youth leadership councils in the area to more effectively involve them as leaders and peer mentors for other youth. This approach also does not require new funding.
Paying more attention to youth and young adults promotes youth-focused programming such as spoken word, rap music, art, and (digital) storytelling workshops and showcases that can involve local artists, schools, and young people. These programs could happen in existing centres such as the library, or new spaces such as a central youth hub.
Having a youth hub in the Mill Woods Town Centre area, where the future Valley Line LRT will terminate, could promote vibrancy of the community and also present opportunities for structured intergenerational programming, dispel the myth of risky behaviours, foster mentorship, build bridges, and promote community safety.