CYCLES | Children and Youth in Cities—Lifestyle Evaluations and Sustainability

What conditions enable young people to live sustainable, fulfilling lives in cities? How do young citizens see their future? What best practices for city planning and community action can make the biggest sustainable difference? How can we help cities track progress and help young citizens flourish within the limits of a finite planet?

These questions are addressed in CYCLES – a study of the lifestyles and embedded experience of young people aged 12-24 in urban communities. The study is coordinated by the Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) University of Surrey, UK and University of Canterbury, NZ, and involves research partners in India, Bangladesh, South Africa, Japan and Brazil and key global sustainability advisors.*

The background report Young Lives in Seven Cities provides an initial sketch of our first seven case study cities, drawing from in-depth audits compiled by our research teams in the seven locations. Our preliminary stock-take of local conditions has identified three shared challenges for cities if young people are to live well. These are the challenges of growing inequality, access to meaningful education and employment, and securing youth wellbeing, particularly mental health. The next stages of CYCLES will examine young people’s own reported experiences of their lives in these cities.

Our ambition is to extend this work to a wider range of cities and a deeper range of issues. Over time, we would like to build the resources not just to understand but to improve the lives of young people around the world. We would be delighted to hear from anyone interested in joining with us in this vital task.

CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 :: Linda Geßner/ (Derivative of an image by Chuttersnap/, licensed under CC.0)

Youth and Urban Sustainability: a cross city, global study

Finding ways to live well in urban communities within the limits of planetary and local ecosystems is one of the most urgent and difficult tasks confronting all communities. Urbanization is a phenomenal megatrend of the 21st century. Reports by UN Habitat and the International Panel on Climate Change note the world’s urban areas are expanding by an estimated 1.3 million people each week. Cities occupy 2 percent of the Earth’s terrestrial surface, but consume 75 percent of natural resources. Cities are also youthful places. By 2050, 7 out of 10 of the world’s youth will live in cities – how they live will shape a global future.

CYCLES will identify the experiences, aspirations and barriers to sustainable lifestyles faced by 12 to 24 year olds living in diverse urban contexts. The research is highly policy relevant, quickly sharing information and lessons across cities to support more sustainable innovations.

Our methodology for CYCLES will proceed as follows: First, we will conduct and collate ‘day in my life’ focus group interviews and photo diaries with young residents aged 12-24 years in each city. These will provide locally relevant insights into what young people value about their urban lives, their hopes and fears, and the opportunities they have for sustainable outcomes. Building from these insights, the CYCLES study will then conduct a mixed method international survey about the urban experiences of a wider sample of young people. Under the coordination of CUSP, results will be analysed by local research teams and shared globally via reports, multi-media images, film, and local outreach to inform city, regional and international best practice.

See below a TV interview with CUSP Deputy Director Kate Burningham, briefly outlining the next steps in the project.

The project in perspective:

Bronwyn Hayward, project lead: “It is exciting to bring seven international research teams together to share our insights into challenges facing young people in cities around the world.”

Tim Jackson, CUSP Director: “Our hope is to launch a vital conversation about young people’s prospects for the future. To understand those prospects is to understand the hopes for human development. To improve them is to enrich our own lives.”

Helio Mattar, research lead for São Paulo: “The challenge of sustainable prosperity, when looked at from the point of view of young people, is to guarantee the enabling conditions for young people to feel secure enough to use their abilities and competences in a way that expands their possibilities rather than putting light in their obstacles to prosper. In other words, to unveil the enabling conditions for young people have a bright consciousness of their best possible self to achieve their hopes and dreams in a sustainable way.”

Vimlendu Jha, project lead in Delhi: “India and its youth are going through a rapid transition. We need a common understanding of sustainability, with mutual respect for each others’ approach.”

Midori Aoyagi, who is leading the work in the city of Yokohama adds: “In Japan, kids poverty is a crucial challenge and young people’s lives in Japan are increasingly polarised: some have opportunity, some are living without any hope.”

Lona Musiyiwa, working on the project in Grahamstown, South Africa: “CYCLES is an important project for us in Grahamstown. Environmental pressures such as water scarcity are a major problem for our youth. Finding ways for young people to manage their future in a sustainable manner is a crucial aspect for us.”

The aim over the next three years is to identify pragmatic ways to help young people across the world achieve their full potential—within the limits of a finite planet. CYCLES will identify and learn from best practices in these communities how to support young people to flourish sustainably.

Young girl on a train in Dhaka, Bangladesh :: CC-BY-SA 2.0 :: Sudipta Arka Das / Flickr

Project Management:

In 2014, UNEP funded researchers at the University of Surrey, UK (Prof Tim Jackson, Dr Kate Burningham and Dr Sue Venn) and the University of Canterbury, Christchurch, NZ (Assc Prof Bronwyn Hayward) to develop the initial project methodology for CYCLES.

The Centre for the Understanding of Sustainable Prosperity (CUSP) is now providing funding for project management of CYCLES and for field work to be carried out in the UK and New Zealand. Dr Bronwyn Hayward leads the project and has established partnerships with academics and sustainability advocates in South Africa, India, Brazil, Bangladesh and Japan. We are currently exploring ways of funding the CYCLES fieldwork in these and other international settings.

An International Advisory Board of key experts in youth and sustainability research will support and inform the vision and impact of CYCLES. Members are Dr Stefanos Fotiou, Professor Golam Moinuddin, Dr Patricia Pinho, Dr Pritpal Randhawa, Mary Richardson, Mary Richardson, Professor Juliet Schor, Dr James Sloam, Professor Takako Takano and Penny Urquhart.

Lead researchers are:

  • Bronwyn Hayward and Sylvia Nissen, CUSP, University of Canterbury, NZ
  • Kate Burningham, Tim Jackson and Sue Venn, CUSP, University of Surrey, UK

Partners are:

  • Ingrid Schudel and Lona Musiyiwa, Rhodes University, South Africa
  • Helio Mattar and Michael Oliveira, Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Vimlendu Jha, Swechha, New Delhi, India
  • Midori Aoyagi and Aya Yoshida, NIES, Tsukuba, Japan
  • Mohammad Mehedi Hasan, CUSP, University of Canterbury NZ /Jahangirmgar University Bangladesh
Kids sitting at Southbank, London :: CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0 :: Chris Beckett / Flickr


For further information, please contact Assc Prof Bronwyn Hayward

* Expert advisors from the following organisations contributed to this conceptualization of CYCLES: United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF); the Partnership for Education and Research about Responsible Living (PERL); the International Social Science Council (ISSC); Consumers International; Collaborating Centre on Sustainable Consumption and Production (CSCP).