Ready, Set, Launch! Reflections from the First Ever Youth Leadership Labs Program


 |  The Starfish

In December of 2021, I was asked to help manage a pilot program at The Starfish Canada called Youth Leadership Labs alongside our Top 25 Program Manager at the time, Aarisha Elvi Haider. I was thrilled to be asked because this meant that I would be part of an opportunity that would support youth getting involved in placemaking and community building. It is so important to give youth a platform to share their voice on the future of their communities.

The Youth Leadership Labs Program was initially conceptualized over a year ago by The Starfish Canada and Aryze Developments as a way to better engage youth in sustainable urban planning and placemaking in the City of Victoria. Being an integrated home-building and urban planning company meant that Aryze Developments could provide youth with a behind-the-scenes look into placemaking.

The goal of the Youth Leadership Labs Program was to give youth between the ages of 13 to 30 in Victoria, BC the opportunity to learn about placemaking and share their ideas on a development project in their community. Through a series of eight virtual workshops, participants got to apply their learnings and pitch an idea they wanted to see incorporated into the final plans for the Quadra Village Community Space Project that Aryze Developments is currently leading. 

What started as an idea became a program that created a safe space for youth to learn, connect, and share their thoughts. It was an incredibly successful pilot program that resulted in six different projects pitched to a panel of professionals involved in planning and designing development projects in Victoria. This program provided a space for youth to learn more about placemaking in their community, connect with professionals, and have their ideas incorporated into the Quadra Village Community Space Project.

The Journey to Pitch Night

In November 2021, we launched applications! After thoughtful review, we welcomed 33 unique participants between the ages of 14 to 29 to the program. For eight weeks, Aarisha and I, along with Valeria Remizova, Marketing and Communications Coordinator at Aryze Developments, worked to provide engaging workshops for the youth to learn and share their thoughts on the Quadra Village Community Space Project. Each workshop was facilitated by a team of committed facilitators and we could not have pulled these off without their support! 

Image of the participants’ answers to the question “What does placemaking mean to you?”

In the first workshop, we asked participants, “What does placemaking mean to you?” and I loved the variety of answers that we received. In the following workshop, we asked them to brainstorm themes they wanted to see incorporated into placemaking initiatives. Once again, I was inspired by the diversity of ideas they deemed key to placemaking; from accessibility, to beauty, to sustainability. We then narrowed it down to six themes that the final projects would encompass; nature and sustainability, decolonizing spaces, joyful and playful, functional and useful, transgenerational, and beauty and art. The participants were sorted into six groups based on the six themes and challenged to create a project pitch. 

For this part of the series, we invited four guests with experience in urban design and planning backgrounds who shared their expertise with participants. They also provided feedback to the groups as they began to firm up their pitches!

After weeks of planning and preparation, on March 9th, 2022 we held Pitch Night, and it truly was inspiring to see the project plans that the participants had worked so hard on! This was by far the participants’ favorite night, as one participant said: “It was really rewarding to present at Pitch Night”. Participants also received a $200 honorarium for their time and energy as a part of the Youth Leadership Labs Program.

Image of participants’ answers to the question “What themes do you want to see in placemaking?”

The Projects

It was incredibly inspiring to hear the participants’ project ideas that they worked so hard on. I am excited to highlight some of the details from each project below.

Our Roots

Our Roots was a project aimed at creating an environment where all feel connected to the land that sustains us. I was fascinated with how many aspects they chose to include, like community seating, reflective prompts, an edible walkway, and a seed library! Inclusivity and acknowledgement of our colonial past are key principles in this project design. I loved that the inclusion of the edible walkway and seed library is meant to educate and encourage the use of native plant species. This group also included details like sit spots throughout the space that would be created from natural materials and designed by local artists. Finally, the following prompts will be written in English, French, Indigenous Languages, and Braille.

  • What is your relationship to this land?
  • How can you be an environmental steward?
  • What does Reconciliation mean to you?
  • How can you be educated and informed on Canada’s history?
Our Roots Project Pitch

Butterfly Building

The Butterfly Building project was created with the idea of being both eye-catching and functional. Their butterfly-style roof is meant to house a tool lending library and a covered seating area. I thought this was ingenious and loved how it brought together sustainability and community-building themes. They thought of everything from rain barrels, compost bins, and a bike fixing station that would encourage circularity and learning. I was impressed with all the background research they did, including clear outcomes in their presentation.

Butterfly Building Project Pitch

Raven Art Piece

Raven Art Piece was a project meant to commemorate the Raven, the center of many creation stories in Northwest Coast Indigenous cultures. The goal is to honour the past, present, and future while involving local Indigenous artists in creating the sculpture. I thought the conversation following this pitch around reconciliation was essential to have and continue having.

Raven Art Piece Project Pitch

Fairy Terrace:

The Fairy Terrace group emanates joyfulness and playfulness in their project design. Their goal was to create a whimsical community garden that focuses on growing, stewarding, and connecting. I was so delighted with the creativity and details included in their project pitch; everything from a plant dome with mushroom stools to murals for kids to paint. This group chose to focus on creating a unique green space, accessible to all, with the goal of connecting through land stewardship.

Fairy Terrace Project Pitch

Fence Mural:

The beauty and art group imagined implementing a chalkboard and Fence Mural. This project focused on creating an inclusive, enjoyable, and relaxing space for all community members. I enjoyed how they incorporated an opening event that would invite the community to help design and paint the fences in their pitch. This group had a well-thought-out project plan with a budget that included snacks for the opening event! Everyone attending Pitch Night wanted to be invited to the event. 

Fence Mural Project Pitch

Quadra Village Garden Oasis

Quadra Village Garden Oasis was a project dedicated to showcasing nature in design. This project pitch had everything from vegetation walls, to pollinator flower beds, to vine archways and benches, to solar power lighting. I was captivated by how thorough the project plan was. It mapped out hiring Indigenous gardeners and educational signage about the plants, including traditional knowledge.

Quadra Village Garden Oasis Project Pitch

Final Reflections

These project pitches were truly outstanding and well thought-out. I am so proud of the work the participants put into these placemaking ideas. While the Quadra Village Community Space Project is still in development, hopefully soon we will hear updates on the final design from Aryze Developments.

Overall I could not be more proud of the outcome of this pilot project. Over 75% percent of participants agreed that the workshops provided an excellent opportunity to learn about placemaking and urban planning. I am delighted we created a space for youth to learn about contributing to community building in Victoria. In addition, over 80% of participants agreed that they had the opportunity to connect with other like-minded youth and discuss their ideas on placemaking. This is important, and one of the participants agreed that “As a youth, I think this was an amazing opportunity”. I hope more programs like this will happen in the future so more youth can say, “It was great to acquire insight from professionals in the field, and to become acquainted with the complex process of urban planning – from a local standpoint!”. 

This program would not have been possible without support from the Victoria Foundation and the Real Estate Foundation of BC.

Screenshot from Pitch Night on March 9th, 2022