Millennials and Resilience: City, Innovation and Transformation of Youths Laboratory


Many cities in sub-Saharan Africa are vulnerable to climate change, progressive decline of biodiversity and ecosystem services, disappearing open and green spaces as well as collapse of institutions that helped in upholding, protection and conservation of such public commons in African cities. As an example, during pre- colonial and colonial times, European explorers and researchers were fascinated by the existing high level resilience that Kano city in Nigeria exhibited through its unique garden city features. Then, two-thirds of the city as seen in 18th century were open and green spaces and this situation only changed in the early 1980s. The city’s plant diversity, resilience to fire were also recorded in old geography journals and travel diaries. The depletion of urban biodiversity and open spaces has some consequences which include changes in inhabitants’ landscape experiences and in particular the children who live and draw landscape experiences. Unfortunately, most of the existing initiatives to promote urban resilience and environmental sustainability have ignored the critical roles and potentials of the millennials to effectively transform their societies into sustainable ones. The millennials are the young persons born at the dusk of the 20th century or at the dawn of the 21st century. In most African countries, this generation dominates the population pyramids of their cities and towns, they are internet savvy and have high dreams and full of energy to partake in transformation agendas. Currently, municipal and national projects and initiatives grossly underestimate the potentials of this generation in initiating and sustaining changes that will solve pressing social and ecological challenges. Solutions to such problems in African cities can be identified and platforms to identify pathways for achieving societal change can be harnessed using innovative tools and approaches that the generation of millennials can drive.

the co-design process

Our proposed lab would be developed through the medium of hackathon tool which would be used as a platform for designing and initiating solutions to the problems of depletion of biodiversity and open and spaces in urban Kano, the largest city in northern Nigeria and the oldest active pre-colonial city in West Africa. The main purpose of the lab is to create a body of active young persons that will become change agents for transformation to sustainability in line with targets and indicators of the SDG 11. The participants in this university guided hackathon include students from three departments of Bayero University Kano namely Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Department of Geography and Department of Environmental Management. Others are members of the Bayero University ENACTUS team. ENACTUS is a global body of university students interested in promoting entrepreneurship. The grouping also includes millennials who work as landscapers and gardeners in and around Kano city. These groups are expected to work with representatives of youths from different parts of the city, these youths may include unemployed and out of school youths. These groups of young persons of all sexes would be guided by the head of lab to undertake a hackathon to deploy and share interdisciplinary skills, experiences and expectations of transforming Kano city and into a more resilient and youths friendly city. These groups of millennials would be invited because of their diversity, potential and experiences which if utilised properly would be of great potentials in transforming their communities to meet targets and indicators of the SDG 11. The involvement of youths as bridges to achieving the SDG 11 is also reflected under Three Pronged Approach (3PA) to sustainable urbanisation. Under the 3PA, the UN Habitat has identified the youths as one of key intervention areas for attaining sustainable urban development.

Potential Innovations and impacts

Knowledge of what constitutes urban health and wellbeing could be extrapolated for knowledge of what constitutes global sustainable development – from a complex systems perspective. The development failures of the past and present can be perceived as a failure to better understand the complexity of urban health and sustainable development issues. We will seek innovative and effective processes of building systems intelligence by collective modeling. This includes partnering with urban governments in applying models for solving complex problems of urban health and wellbeing. Some outcomes of the lab will be:

  • creating a data sharing platform for modeling
  • different scenarios and policy recommendations for sustainable urban governance (published in suitable format)
  • partnerships between urban decision makers and scientists, e.g. for applying specific models in cities interested to make use of the approach
  • demonstration projects in cities around the world – partnership with the ‘smart cities’ community


Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Bayero University Kano, Nigeria
Virtual lab at the UNESCO UniTwin Complex Systems Digital Campus (CSDC)