Build cities with millennials in mind

Young people want a city where bike lanes matter and are a secure and dedicated path for cyclists.
Young people want a city where bike lanes matter and are a secure and dedicated path for cyclists.
To Winnipeg, With Love Jason Syvixay
To Winnipeg, With Love
Jason Syvixay

I’m writing this letter to you as I depart to Denver, CO to learn more about city building best practice at the International Downtown Association (IDA) spring conference. As I wait to board my flight, I can’t help but notice crowds of young people all departing – most likely in pursuit of new opportunities, scenery, and jobs. Or even simply to escape after a frigid winter.
While this is a growing trend and an unfortunate reality in many small cities like ours, there are many of us millennials that actively choose to stay right here in Manitoba’s prairie capital. Young people who love and celebrate Winnipeg’s long and cold prairie winter nights. And the creative artists, makers, and entrepreneurs who thrive on our city’s relentless drive and pulse.
We make the most of our wicked seasons whether it’s at an offbeat festival spent outdoors when it’s 50 C below, or an afternoon spent skipping work to enjoy a frosty pint (or two) at a bustling summer patio. Or cycling throughout the Exchange District into Chinatown to sip and sample unique culinary treats.
We are the city’s heartbeat and we’re eager to make a difference in the social, economic, and sustainable progress of our city.
Millennials are building roots in Winnipeg – a city that is becoming more and more kinetic and buoyant. They are embracing the city and all of its quirks, challenges, and opportunities for growth and renewal – eager to tackle our city’s past mistakes to forge a more prosperous road ahead.
How can our city harness this energy to retain and attract young people to live and invest here?
Growing up, I often felt disconnected from the city. Like many of my friends, my perception of Winnipeg was that there was nothing to do, limited creative outlets, and no job opportunities. I wanted nothing more than to leave Winnipeg and to attend school in a bigger metropolitan city.
This is true for most millennials. They move away when they feel disenfranchised when their city fails to support growth and community vibrancy.
But then I was accepted to the University of Winnipeg, a truly remarkable downtown campus that instilled in me this idea that Winnipeggers have a significant role to play in the building of their city and communities – growing them from the ground up. This was a challenge that excited me.
While places like New York are bursting at the seams with construction, tourism and trade, it’s hard to feel part of that change – hard to know where to start and how to contribute. In Winnipeg, the vast, open blue skies symbolize our tremendous opportunity and ability to create together – and how our potential is limitless.
You can feel part of Winnipeg; connected, and part of the conversation. You can test ideas here, be entrepreneurial and creative, and plant seeds and see them sprout.
So my advice for city practitioners is to build cities with millennials in mind. Create opportunities for young people to contribute, to dialogue, and to discuss their city’s growth. A speaker at the IDA conference presented some sound logic: “Businesses want millennials. Millennials want bike lanes. Bike lanes attract millennials. Millennials attract business.”
Sounds simple.
Young people want a city where there are bike lanes that actually work, with painted lines that provide a sense of security or a dedicated path that doesn’t treat cyclists as second-class citizens.
Young people want a city where vacant storefronts are activated with cool and innovative products driven by young business owners all hungry to contribute to our city’s economy.
Young people want a dense urban core – concrete softened with green space and parks, trees on boulevards, and patios galore.
We need to be that city. We need to be a city that embraces the creativity of its youth, empowering and nurturing its ideas. It’s time to let young people take the reign.
During my time at the Downtown BIZ, I’ve been given a chance to lead. The BIZ’s executive director and the board have given me an incredible opportunity to help shape our city, bringing with me ideas and a creative spark from my peers.
What city do we want to leave behind for the generations to come? Let’s listen to young people and they might even teach our cities a thing or two.
Jason Syvixay is the managing director of the Downtown Winnipeg BIZ. He was recently recognized as Manitoba Communicator of the Year, the youngest-ever recipient of the award.

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