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Photo: Vancouver Public Space Network

Rather than blushing about its crack-smoking mayor, this week Toronto, Canada, has something to celebrate. It was named ‘Youthful City of the Year 2014’ by the inaugural YouthfulCities Index measuring the world’s top cities from the perspective of youth.

The initiative is the first attempt to quantify which cities are most attractive to young people aged 15-29. The index, which ranked 25 cities from across the globe using 80 different indicators across business, lifestyle and entertainment, was created with the help of thousands of young people worldwide.

Toronto edged Berlin to take the top spot, with New York City in third place. Youth analysts found that Toronto was the most diverse city and also had high levels of youth employment, and digital access. Standards of living were high and the city scored highly for nightlife, film and music.

To rank the top cities, five were selected in each major global region based on population size – Asia, Africa, Europe, Latin America, English-speaking North America. The full ranking list of 25 cities is:

  1. Toronto
  2. Berlin
  3. New York City
  4. Dallas
  5. Paris
  6. Chicago
  7. London
  8. Los Angeles
  9. Tokyo
  10. Seoul
  11. Buenos Aires
  12. Mexico City
  13. Rome
  14. Johannesburg
  15. Lima
  16. Mumbai
  17. Sao Paulo
  18. Bogota
  19. Istanbul
  20. Shanghai
  21. Cairo
  22. Manila
  23. Lagos
  24. Nairobi
  25. Kinshasa

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Photo: Vancouver Public Space Network

As well as the overall winner, the Index also identifies the cities that finish highest in 16 individual categories. Select insights reveal that Seoul is the most environmentally sustainable city, and Berlin and New York City are at the top in terms of youth employment. The cities were measured across the following categories selected by youth in all 25 cities:

  1. Civic participation (percentage of population 15-29 years old, volunteer opportunities, youth voter turnout)
  2. Diversity (openess to immigrants, religion, LGQT)
  3. Internal transportation (km of public transportation, walkability, transit costs)
  4. Digital access (wifi access, cell phone costs)
  5. Environmental sustainability (recycled waste, cars, carbon emissions per capita)
  6. Safety & Mental Health (homicide and suicide rate)
  7. Access to education (tuition fees, post secondary access)
  8. Youth employment (youth unemployment rate, student debt)
  9. Entrepreneurship (age to register a business, early stage entrepreneurial activity)
  10. Financial access (financial literacy, age to open a bank account)
  11. Economic status (minimum wage, income, housing)
  12. Food and nightlife (# of nightclubs, restaurants, cost of eggs, fast food)
  13. Music and film (film and music festivals, cost of movie ticket or concert)
  14. Fashion and art (street art, number of design schools)
  15. Regional and global connectivity (‘getaway city’ costs)
  16. Public space, sport and gaming (green space, libraries, recreation facilities)

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Photo: Kelvin Lau

With more than half of the world’s population being under 30 and more than half living in cities, the time is right to see which ones are most appealing to young people. 

"It’s clear that cities will shape our world. And it is clear that the cities that will thrive and prosper are those that are able to attract and empower young people," said Robert Barnard, co-founder of YouthfulCities.

“This venture is about amplifying the role youth play in building better cities to live work and play in. We want to ensure that young people are the driving force for urban success across the world.”

As more and more young people are choosing to live in cities over the slower paced suburbs, civic leaders best take note. According to Scott Cain, Start-Up Director, Future Cities Catapult:

“The YouthfulCities Index shines is is also a call to action for city leaders, businesses and organisations in the public and private sectors to put a focus on what they are doing to attract young people and to enable them to meet their potential.”

Whether or not Toronto truly is the most youth-friendly city remains up for debate. YouthfulCities Index is new, and on the YouthfulCities website there isn’t much data to support how DECODE, a Canadian youth-focused marketing company that created the initiative, actually produced their results. According to a Globe and Mail article, the youth survey wasn’t random enough, as DECODE admits, to be representative.Also, DECODE is based in Toronto, so they respond to any accusations of bias by pointing out that they also have an office in London, and the data speaks for itself.

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Photo: Vancouver Public Space Network