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

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

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) from the University of Canterbury NZ and the  University of Surrey UK, 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.

VACANCY :: We are seeking a part-time Postdoctoral Fellow to join our NZ based team of researchers working on the study. The post-holder will coordinate the survey, working with locally embedded research teams and under the direction of Bronwyn Hayward. For more details, please see the vacancy page. Closing date: 19 Aug 2018 (midnight, NZ time).

UPCOMING EVENT ::  In our research, we listen to young people around the world talk about their everyday lives, including what they like about where they live and what they might like to change. We want to understand the possibilities for young people to live flourishing urban lives in sustainable ways. To do this, our research teams speaks with young people aged 12-24 in seven very different cities – Lambeth in London UK, Christchurch in New Zealand, Dhaka in Bangladesh, New Delhi in India, Sao Paulo in Brazil, Grahamstown in South Africa and Yokohama in Japan. We ask them to tell us about the kind of food they eat and where they get it from, about how they get around their city and away, how they spend their leisure time, what their home life is like, and about work and school. We also ask them to take photos and make drawings to illustrate their stories and we will be sharing these images and stories at the event in the form of an exhibition. As well as hearing about young peoples’ everyday urban lives, you will also be able to take home a visually rich summary document and have the opportunity to comment about a day in your life and to say what you enjoy and want to change about your own city. The event will form part of the 2018 ESRC Festival of Social Sciences. More details to follow shortly.

As with all our CUSP work, we aren’t just interested in understanding for its own sake. We want the CYCLES research to be something which can be used by city planners, local authorities, by community groups, by businesses who are interested to improve the quality of life for young people in their cities. Listen to CUSP Deputy Director Kate Burningham briefly outlining the context and wider purpose of our project, and what the next steps are — in the video below:

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 from the Sustainable Lifestyles Research Group 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.

CYCLES is now part of CUSP, with funding provided for project management and the field work in the UK and New Zealand. We have established partnerships with academics and sustainability advocates in South Africa, India, Brazil, Bangladesh and Japan, and are currently exploring ways of further 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, 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).