Evidence is mounting that younger adults live in and experience cities differently than their parents, grandparents or even older brothers and sisters did at their ages.
- They drive less
- They spend time connecting via social media
- They are more likely to live in a condo or apartment (and for longer periods in their lives)
- In some cities, they are more likely to have a university degree
- They have superior networking and collaborating skills (both using social media, and generally)
And, in Calgary this week, youthful adults used their smartphones and their feet to mobilize the vote for one of their own, 38-year-oild Naheed Nenshi, the unexpected new mayor. He went from 1% support in the polls to victory with the help of an army of inspired youthful citizens who spread his messages.
The Calgary-born, Harvard educated Nenshi campaigned on a platform that included ideas to improve the functioning and design of the city, including design guidelines that would ensure greater walkability in new subdivisions. One of his key messages that people were talking about on the streets this week was about de-emphasizing the automobile in a city that lives and dies by the oil industry. Despite the mild contradiction, a lot of Calgarians seemed to like this idea.
Nenshi’s election shows how a new generation with ideas—and a candidate who can articulate them—can seize control of a city.
This was a revolution in Calgary, long stereotyped as a place of white, socially and fiscally conservative cowboys with minimal educations. Indeed many observers would characterize some past mayors (such as Ralph Klein) in this light.
Nenshi’s election reflects a different Calgary that I see gaining strength in every visit I make to the city. From beneath the above-mentioned stereotype, over the past couple decades, a young, well-educated, energetic, idea-drive, tolerant and highly diverse population has been remaking Calgary into a vibrant global city.
This was the logical next step—seizing control of city hall.
Note, although the media has given some press to Nenshi’s minority and muslim background, it shouldn’t be overplayed. The genius and power of this youthful movement he lead happened precisely because those two things didn’t matter to the voters, of all ages, he inspired with his ideas and fresh approach.
Watch for this collaborative, youthful revolution to shake other Canadian and North American cities within the next 5 years, including Toronto and Vancouver.