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

Cities are youthful places. By 2050, seven out of ten young people will live in an urbanising area. Cities are also centres of consumption. Urban areas cover two percent of the world’s land area, but they are sites of 70 percent of resource use and greenhouse gas emissions. Understanding the lifestyles and aspirations of young people living in cities motivates the CYCLES project, a study of the lives of young urban citizens aged between 12 and 24 years living in very different cities and contexts. Our aim in CYCLES is to identify and share young urban experiences and ideas for living well within environmental limits. 

CYCLES. A Touring Exhibition

Research Methods

Our research involves a three-step process using a range of methods, with results analysed by local research teams under the coordination of CUSP, and shared globally via reports, exhibitions, film, and local outreach.

Step 1 | City contextual reviews: understanding local sustainability challenges

CYCLES began with desk-based reviews of sustainability challenges, opportunities and interventions in each city. The report can be accessed in pdf.

Step 2 | Focus groups and photo elicitation: “A day in our lives”

Interactive focus groups, interviews and photo diaries compiled by young city residents provided culturally relevant insights into young people’s everyday consumption, what they value, and their aspirations for the future. To celebrate ‘A day in our lives’, we developed oan exhibition, on show between Nov 2018 and January 2019. The catalogue can be accessed on the exhibition page.

Step 3 | Quantitative city surveys: “How we live now”

Building from the ‘a day in my life’ small scale insights, a mixed method online survey of wider populations in these cities will inform city, regional and international best practice.

CYCLES is based in seven cities that span six continents, including some of the world’s largest mega-cities with 10 million inhabitants or more. They also include small cities of fewer than 500,000 inhabitants, where nearly half of the world’s 4.1 billion urban dwellers reside. Namely, our partners work in Christchurch, NZ • Dhaka, BD • Makhanda, SA • London, UK • New Delhi, IN • São Paulo, BR • Yokohama, JP.

Celebrating Young Urban Lives

Our exhibition (on show at The Foundry, from Nov 2018 to January 2019) celebrates everyday aspects of young people’s urban lives — yet issues emerged across our seven international cities which demand attention. Secure homes and rewarding relationships were identified as central to youth wellbeing but the practicality of heating or cooling homes, and affording accommodation with space for intergenerational lifestyles is creating strain for many. Other issues emerged too: the need for secure streets and regular affordable public transport; access to green spaces; clean water and air. The pleasure that young people take from interaction with friends and the value they place on freedom to get around their city was evident. Education stress, precarious employment, loss of green space and youth mental health are key priorities, but so too is celebrating the places and activities urban young people value.


All research teams followed UNICEF’s guidelines for Ethical Research Involving Children (ERIC), with the research carried out by University teams conforming to the requirements of their Ethics Committees. For more details about how the research was carried out, please see our exhibition catalogue, or contact Sue Venn.

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:

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. 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, Kate Burningham, Tim Jackson, Sylvia Nissen and Sue Venn.

Partners are:

  • Ingrid Schudel, Mandilive Matiwane, Patience Shawarira and Lona Musiyiwa, Rhodes University, South Africa
  • Helio Mattar, Sofia Ferraz and Michael Oliveira, Akatu Institute for Conscious Consumption, São Paulo, Brazil
  • Vimlendu Jha, Aakriti Gupta and Tanvee Kakati, Swechha, New Delhi, India
  • Midori Aoyagi and Aya Yoshida, NIES, Tsukuba, Japan
  • Mohammad Mehedi Hasan, CUSP, University of Canterbury NZ /Jahangirmgar University Bangladesh
Young girl on a train in Dhaka, Bangladesh :: CC-BY-SA 2.0 :: Sudipta Arka Das / Flickr

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 Makhanda (formerly Grahamstown), South Africa: “CYCLES is an important project for us in [Makhanda]. 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.

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).