Public institutions are confronted with far-reaching and complex challenges in building an inclusive and resilient post-COVID-19 society, ranging from public health and employment to education and social protection. These are coupled with other pressing challenges toward achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including poverty eradication, climate change as well as energy and food crises. This calls for a shift in public governance toward inclusive and participatory governance where citizens, including youth, actively engage and participate in policy processes and act as co-creators of government policies and services.
The active engagement of youth in sustainable development efforts is central to achieving sustainable, inclusive and stable societies by 2030. Youth participation is critical to promoting intergenerational equity, which is one of the 11 Principles of Effective Governance for Sustainable Development. With their innovative ideas and skills, youth are important drivers of innovation, game changers, and participants in policy processes at all levels. Young people can create innovative solutions, volunteer to support people in vulnerable situations and build the resilience of local communities, as witnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic response process. Youth-led solutions in various areas, including health and wellbeing, climate action and biodiversity, and food security have shown that young people are “at the frontlines of developing new solutions and pillars of their communities”. Youth participation is also vital for promoting inclusiveness of policy processes, increasing legitimacy and ownership of policy decisions, holding governments accountable for their decisions, and enhancing trust in government.
In order to promote youth participation in public governance, public institutions need to transform the way they interact and engage with young people and empower them to fully unleash their potential. There are several challenges and barriers to public participation of youth, including the lack of interest, low awareness of the available opportunities and channels of participation, lack of information and skills, absence of incentives, and lack of trust in government, among others. Institutionalised mechanisms and platforms for interacting and meaningfully engaging with youth are also often absent or inadequate. Meanwhile, young people may not realise their own potential as important drivers of change and transformation. It is therefore crucial for public institutions to design innovative strategies and approaches to address these challenges and better engage with youth. While young people are the driving force behind digitalization and innovation, there is a distinct lack of an innovative policy model that would connect those components in a way where young people could participate through mediums that are innovative, easily adopted and can provide concrete solutions to above-stated challenges.
On the other hand, the urgent need for resilient cities is driven by the need to address the challenges that cities face, build stronger, more sustainable communities, and ensure a brighter future for everyone who lives in them. Specifically, the challenges relate to the following:
Climate Crisis: With the changing climate, cities are facing more frequent and severe natural disasters like floods, storms, and wildfires. Resilient cities can withstand and recover from these disasters more quickly and effectively. Conversely, the EU has lost around €145 billion in a decade due to climate change-related events, according to Eurostat, and the alarm bells are ringing for the so-called “point of no return” which urges cities to frankly brace for impact. As the impact is not likely to be drastically reduced, a massive burden is put on the present and future generations, the ones who will take the brunt of the actions that have not been taken in time.
Rapid Urbanisation: Europe is a Union of cities and towns; around 75% of the population of the EU have chosen urban areas as their place to live. In times of rapid urbanisation, Europe is increasingly facing dire urban challenges ranging from the global health crisis and the rise of digitalisation to societal inequalities, demographic changes, climate change and environmental degradation. While these complex, multi-faceted challenges fall under different policy levels and sectors, cities serve as the main drivers of delivering innovative solutions for sustainable development in Europe. As more people move into cities, infrastructure, resources, and services are strained, making cities more vulnerable to disruptions. Resilient cities can adapt to changes and manage resources more effectively to meet the needs of growing populations.
Economic Stability: With rising inequalities and increased social distress in the face of the consequences of the climate crisis, the impact of the pandemic, and now the current Russian invasion of Ukraine as well as the Israel-Palestinian conflict, the economic stability of the EU citizens in cities has been shaken to the core – as the worry over sustaining stable ways of life continues to persist, the demands for more stability rise too. Resilient cities can weather economic shocks and downturns better than cities that are not prepared. By building resilience, cities can attract more investment, create more jobs, and maintain a stable economy.
Social Equity: Nine in ten Europeans (88%) consider a social Europe to be important to them personally. The most pressing issues for citizens are equal opportunities and access to the labour market; fair working conditions; and access to quality health care. At the same time, 71% of the respondents say they consider a lack of social rights a serious problem, while 62% believe there will be a more social Europe in 2030. Resilient cities prioritise the needs of all their residents, including those who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and economic instability. By ensuring social equity, resilient cities can build stronger, more connected communities.
Issues such as climate crisis, rapid urbanisation, economic (in)stability and social equity have been at the forefront of a lot of policies over time.
Out of this, two main challenges arise: The urgency to develop resilient cities and The urgency to increase sustainable performances in cities. Cities play an integral role in achieving climate neutrality targets. While they take up just 4% of land area in the EU, they will house up to 85% of its residents by 2050. On a global level, cities alone account for 65% of energy consumption and more than 70% of CO2 emissions. The European Commission’s Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities Mission operates in this context and is aimed at achieving the targets of the European Climate Law and European Green Deal – reducing the EU’s emissions by 55% by 2030 to become the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. Naturally, cities play a crucial role. While a number of cities in Europe have expressed interest and made commitments to reduce their GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions, only a handful of them has adopted a target for climate neutrality by 2030. Through the mission, the EU is seeking to address this gap, mobilising local authorities, citizens, businesses, investors as well as regional and national authorities to deliver at least 100 Climate-Neutral and Smart Cities by 2030 and ensure that these cities act as experimentation and innovation hubs to enable all European cities to follow suit by 2050.
The MC-YOU solution
In light of the challenges set, the MC-YOU consortium will contribute towards a comprehensive solution. This solution empowers young people to take an active role in designing and creating the cities of the future by leveraging the creative and educational potential of Minecraft, at the same time raising awareness among young people about the importance of sustainability and modernity in urban planning and development.
According to the UN DESA policy brief no. 149, young people are “digital natives” by virtue of their age and early experience with technology. Digital technologies have become the major communication channels of youth these days, especially with young people rapidly embracing new digital tools during the COVID-19 pandemic. The UN E-Government Survey 2020 highlighted that young people are the driving force behind digitalisation and innovation, contributing toward greater openness to and engagement in a data-driven and information-oriented future. Furthermore, the 2020 World Youth Report also suggested that the adoption of digital technologies has a positive correlation with the level of utilisation of the talents and potentials of youth, which makes it the perfect medium for intervention.
Specifically, the consortium will engage in the use of the world-favourite game Minecraft under the assumption of its suitability to feed well into policy-making and participation loops.
Minecraft is a popular sandbox video game developed by Mojang Studios. In Minecraft, players explore a randomly generated world made up of blocks and materials, which they can mine and use to craft various tools, structures, and items. The game offers different modes of play, including survival mode where players must gather resources and survive against enemies, and a creative mode where players have unlimited resources to build and create whatever they want. It is a very popular video game, with the number of average monthly players reaching 172,801,145 as of December 2022. More recent research reveals that the trend tends to still favour boys as being the majority users, with the divide presently being 56-44% (boys vs. girls) in 2022.
According to a survey by the European Commission in 2018, 55% of European children aged 6 to 10 years old play video games, and Minecraft was one of the most popular games among them. In addition, according to Statista, as of May 2021, Minecraft was the most popular video game among teenagers in France and the United Kingdom, and the second most popular video game among teenagers in Germany, with a share of gamers playing it ranging from 24% to 35% depending on the country.
According to the website Statista, as of May 2021, Minecraft was the fourth most popular video game in Belgium, with 16 % of gamers in the country playing it. Minecraft is an efficient platform to use in urban idea development for several reasons:
Creativity: Minecraft provides an open sandbox platform for players to build and design virtually anything. This creativity is valuable in urban development, where innovative and out-of-the-box solutions are often needed.
Visualisation: Minecraft allows players to create 3D models of their ideas, making it easier to visualise and communicate concepts to others.
Collaboration: Minecraft is multiplayer and allows for easy collaboration, enabling players to work together to design and build cities that meet the needs of their communities.
Problem-solving: Minecraft requires players to solve problems and overcome obstacles, which develops valuable problem-solving skills needed in urban development.
Low cost: Minecraft is a relatively low-cost tool and does not require expensive equipment or software, making it accessible to a wide range of people.
Engagement: Minecraft is a popular and engaging game, particularly among young people. By using Minecraft, urban development can become more accessible and interesting to the younger generation, empowering them to become more engaged in the future of their cities.
Overall, Minecraft’s combination of creativity, visualisation, collaboration, problem-solving, low cost, and engagement make it an effective tool for urban development. Minecraft presents itself as a brilliant opportunity and a platform to engage with young people. It is a popular video game among children and young adults, providing a space for social interaction, creativity, and problem-solving. By using Minecraft as a tool, educators and community leaders can leverage the game’s popularity to engage young people in a variety of activities, including learning, civic engagement, and socialisation.
The project “Minecrafting resilient Cities: innovative YOUth-led Policy process for sustainable Europe – MC-YOU” project proposal is focused on engaging young people in rethinking the future and building sustainable and modern European cities using the popular game Minecraft. The project aims to empower young people to take an active role in designing and creating the cities of the future by leveraging the creative and educational potential of Minecraft but also to raise awareness among young people about the importance of sustainability and modernity in urban planning and development.
MC-YOU has been one of the recently awarded proposals for the ERASMUS-2023-PCOOP-ENGO call. The project is set to begin in the near future with the main aim to empower young people to take a proactive role in creating resilient cities by developing and testing a new youth-led policy model that includes leveraging the creative and educational potential of Minecraft but also offers to policymakers a sustainable solution to engage youth in political processes on the local level.
Specific objectives are (1) To support the development of digital skills among young people; (2) To encourage the involvement of a diverse group of young people; (3) To create and test an innovative policy mechanism for young people to collaborate and participate with policymakers; (4) To create and develop a Community of Practitioners; (5) Create a Capacity Building platform for future for city administrators.
Activities will encompass a cycle of: #Analyse&Commit! (WP1), #Educate&Empower! (WP2), #Consult&Develop! (WP3), #Advocate&Sustain! (WP4), #Manage&Impact! (WP5).
Results will showcase the increased capacities of the target groups (young people, youth stakeholders and policymakers) to effectively engage young people in all phases of active political participation.
Impact: The project activities are predicted to reach 405 young people, 243 youth stakeholders, 252 policymakers and 360 citizens and reach 13040 people online. The project will also amplify its scope and include other external stakeholders to attain medium and long-term sustainability.
The project will be jointly implemented by 8 partners: Network partners OTB (Belgium), UBC (Poland), Piloting cities (Faro, Riga, Sandanski), Youth stakeholder partners YEPP (Germany/Europe), CESIE (Italy) and quality assurance partner LINK DMT (Italy).