Iqaluit youth take a crack at designing the city of the future

The Iqaluit of their dreams


Let teens design the Iqaluit of the future and you'll get a city equipped with a paintball course, waterslide, video arcade, and bigger movie theatre.

But it's not all fun and games. There's also the practical: an affordable city bus driving through litter-free streets, dropping people off at stores that open past 10 p.m. and somewhere to hang out late at night that isn't a bar.

That's the vision you get from 12 teenagers brainstorming what they'd like to see built in Iqaluit. The exercise was part of a workshop organized by the city of Iqaluit to get its youth thinking about sustainable urban development in Nunavut's fast-growing capital.

"One of the goals is to have them think in a creative, constructive way about the future of their lives as well as about the community," said organizer Isabel Budke, a planner with Vancouver's International Centre for Sustainable Cities, whose four-month work term with the city of Iqaluit is ending soon.

"[It's] a chance for them to actually have their ideas heard."

To do this, Budke employed a few local volunteers, some brown paper, a few digital cameras donated by the Qikiqtani Inuit Association and a heap of pizza that was vacuumed up by the young workshop participants – and the volunteers – during breaks.

Armed with digital cameras, the youth hit the streets to photograph safe and unsafe places as well as things for youth to do. The danger zones are even catalogued with a sense of humour.

Two of the girls square off in front of the Storehouse. Framing the scene through the viewfinder, Crystal Mullin, 14, yells, "go!"

The girls start throwing punches and one puts the other in a headlock. What sets this apart from your standard nightclub punch-up is that the two combatants are laughing, but it also reveals the extent to which booze-fueled violence is part of the everyday lives of youth.

Budke and colleague Amber Zirnhelt sought to get teens to relate their own lives to the city around them. So they drew outlines of themselves are large sheets of paper and filled the outlines with words and images describing their lives and what they care about. They built models of Iqaluit complete with improvements they'd like to see.

Isaiah Patterk, 13, said he joined the workshop because he'd like to see an Iqaluit that's more fun and rid of its notorious litter problem.

"I just wanted to improve Iqaluit with more places to go and more stuff to do," he said.

Mullin also wants to see the capital cleaned of litter and graffiti and hopes the workshop serves as a reminder to adult decision-makers that "youth can make decisions" too.

Five of the participants even made an appearance at a recent city council meeting in Iqaluit to outline their plans for the city and urge councillors to tackle the city's violence and litter problems.

But Jo-Anne Idlout told councillors she's also optimistic about the city's future.

"People are having fun in this town too," she said. "Whatever you can think of, you can do it."

The youth impressed Mayor Elisapee Sheutiapik, who has been a driving a long-term planning agenda during her second term in office.

"You are all going to go places, because believe you me, five years ago I could barely talk in here," she said.

It's hard to know now what of those suggestions will turn into reality, but Budke said it's important to include a wide variety of people in making plans for Iqaluit's future growth.

"I think [youth] are the most powerful group," Budke said. "Because if we want to improve things in the long term, we need to speak to and involve those people that will be here in 10 or 20 years. And that's the kids of today."

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