The challenges facing urban youth are emerging as one of the most important global development issues. High levels of unemployment, health problems (especially around HIV/AIDS in many nations), social marginalization and exclusion from local governance are all issues that undermine the potential of young people and the stability of their communities. We have remarkably few effective precedents on how to address these concerns. The papers on youth in the last two issues of Environment and Urbanization make some important contributions.
There are some powerful narratives shaping the discourse around youth. On the one hand, they are seen as the problem – the unemployed, disaffected, irresponsible generation, a “ticking time bomb”, the ugly “bulge” that is likely to burst, spreading violence and chaos.(1) On the other hand, young people, and young women in particular, are seen as victims – of HIV, violence and sexual abuse; of discrimination, unemployment and exploitation. Yet another perspective is a vision of youth as the answer, a repository of knowledge, energy and vision that has only to be tapped to solve the world’s problems.(2) These narratives, contradictory and simplistic as they are, influence how young people are responded to, often with disappointing results. The papers on youth in the October 2010 and April 2011 issues of Environment and Urbanization (listed on the back page) offer a more nuanced middle ground, an area that needs to be explored if the complex realities facing urban youth are to be effectively addressed.