Project news
Edit 21 November 2022
by City of Verona

Empowering youth through micro-regeneration activities

Empowering youth through micro-regeneration activities
In the past two years the S.T.E.P.S. project has promoted active participation of teenagers in neighbourhoods’ renewal processes. The efforts aim at boosting youth’s sense of community belonging, curbing loneliness and restoring of social links in dedicated physical spaces.

Technology and online communication play a significant role in teenagers’ everyday life. The shifting of social relations from the physical to virtual sphere occurs more than frequently, with repercussions on young people’s skills development, real-time experiencing and learning processes. The considerable time spent online has altered face-to-face social interaction, leading to events of lack of self-confidence, isolation or loneliness.

To counteract the general trend as well as to engage young people in the process of exploring and reshaping of the neighbourhoods they are living in, since 2021 the S.T.E.P.S. project has fostered collaboration with the local initiative “Ci sto? Affare fatica” [I care!] in Verona’s third district. The initiative promotes week-long activities dedicated to urban micro-regeneration, taking place primarily during the summer vacations, but also during the academic year. To date it has seen the participation of 265 teenagers (age 14-19 y.o.) and 26 tutors, achieving some 4,634 volunteering hours for the care and valorisation of common goods located in multiple third district areas.

Youth protagonism in these micro-regeneration activities follows a two-fold approach: an initial set of activities makes use of physical maps as tools to explore the territory and identify its concrete needs as per young people’s perspective. Then, in a co-creation process, the participants brainstorm on how to redesign the intervention areas, making them more youth-friendly and socially sustainable. Whereas, the hands-on sessions see the groups engaged in making the change happen, by means of artistic expression activities (murals, creative ground paintings), cleaning campaigns, gardening and maintenance of wooden public furniture located in public spaces and/or schools.

The shared conviction is that urban regeneration should start with young people, who will then make use of those spaces. The approaching of different public areas in decay through a creative perspective has served as a source of urban development as well as a stimulus for teenagers’ co-imagination, combining accordingly a maximum effect for a minimum cost of transformation. An illustration is the mural reflecting a bunch of flowers painted with the colours of the national flag, in the front wall of “Istituto San Micheli” high school, a symbolic contribution of the teenagers to the community, which has turned into a new point of reference for the area of Borgo Nuovo.

“Proposing similar activities allows people to do something useful and at the same time stay together”, declares Elena, a participant age 15. This experience has shown that initially there was a significant attachment of the participants to digital devices and little inclination to get out of their comfort zone, which over time has been transformed into a strong team spirit building and socialization.

Establishing new friendships is one of the primary reasons of participation of the teenagers, followed by the incentive of having also a friend attending as well. “You meet new people and don't stay home alone all day”, suggests Matteo (age 16). When asked, the participants acknowledged the experiencing of some feelings of isolation, therefore this summer a dedicated laboratory on loneliness took place next to the one on urban micro-regeneration. This practical experience showed that despite their age, the teenagers have a lot to tell about loneliness, both from a personal experience as well as in theoretical terms. The results of a survey circulated during June-July 2022 among all participants of “Ci sto?” showed that nearly 1 out of 3 respondents feels little extroverted and friendly, while 3 out of 10 do not feel comfortable with the people around him/her. Home, friends and school were reported as ‘safe places’ where they experience less loneliness. Although not representative, the survey served to reflect on how the micro-regeneration initiative can develop into an instrument to counter youth loneliness.

An antidote is certainly the opportunity to build bridges with peers and work in teams towards a common goal. In Marco’s opinion (age 14), “organising recreational activities after regenerating a given space [allows] you to enjoy even more the neighbourhood”. Overall, such practical experiences contribute to a virtuous process of addressing human connection needs of Generation Z, by breaking isolation, restoring social links and encouraging interactions and ties with local communities.

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Empowering youth through micro-regeneration activities

Empowering youth through micro-regeneration activities

Empowering youth through micro-regeneration activities

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