27 young people from 5 European Union countries were reunited for 9 days in Maribor, in Slovenia, creating the “City of Youthopia”.
A sustainable utopian city, where people live in harmony with nature and human rights are respected; where art and culture create synergies with environmental institutions; where parents have time to spend with their kids and the education system stimulates creativity.
The project City of Youthopia was created by young people for young people, and it’s goal is to gather young people from different countries and, through non-formal education activities, give them space to find solutions towards sustainable practices, both at the individual and organizational level.
The exchange was organized so that the participants might understand, from the beginning, the meaning of sustainability and the present situation of our planet. Afterwards, the youngsters had the opportunity to think critically about the issue and formulate ideas for the creation of a utopian city. Therefore, throughout the first days of activities, the participants shared sustainable practices from their countries of origin; each one calculated their ecological footprint in order to understand the impact their own lifestyle has in the planet.
In order to fully understand the concept of sustainability and get to know good practices, the participants had the opportunity to participate in a sustainable tour in Maribor. In this way they got to know the sustainable reality of the city: shops that only sell local products based on fair trade principles, cooperatives that sell seasonal organic products, an old casino converted into a bar, the Old Vine House, a wine cellar with the world’s most ancient vine, still in production. The tour also included a visit to the University of Maribor to attend a lecture on Sustainable and Ethical Design, where several professors talked about the environmental impact of the fashion industry and the importance of raising awareness of students to sustainable design and to the importance of making consumption decisions by a criteria of quality instead of quantity.
The hostel Pekarna where the participants where housed and where most of the activities took place is also a great example regarding good practices in sustainability. The waste is recycled and old materials are used for decoration. Getting to know examples of establishments with sustainable practices and the increase of each participant’s awareness towards the need for a lifestyle change in society in benefit of the planet, motivated the group for debate and sharing of ideas on the topic.
The consensus was absolute among participants: our current lifestyle is to expensive for us to be able to pay it back to the planet. We need an urgent change in lifestyle in order to reduce our environmental impact. It was by facing their own conclusions that the participants realized the importance of creating the City of Youthopia and started to think of the necessary measures for its construction, the world’s most urgent needs, the problems we face and adequate solutions. In order for debate to have a more constructive result, 4 groups were created and maintained throughout the week, each one dedicated to one theme:
Education: thinking of an education system that stimulates curiosity, critical thinking and entrepreneurship.
Political Power: thinking of measures and laws that might encourage active participation of all citizens in political life and the creation of spaces for dialogue in cooperation with different stakeholders (public and private entities) and local agents.
Production and Consumption: thinking of a sustainable production and consumption model, based on the notions of circular economy; zero waste, renewable energies, reduction of the production and consumption of plastic and meat, conscious consumers, production and consumption of local and seasonal products and reduction of the use of chemical components.
Art and Culture: thinking of a sustainable model for arts and cultural heritage and to explore the artistical opportunities in the arts domain, as a way of promoting individual critical reflection and collectively motivate people for a more sustainable world.
After a global presentation and discussion of the ideas that came up in each group, everyone was ready to share City of Youthopia with the world. In this way, in the last day of the exchange a press conference took place. This event was attended by the leaders of local NGOs and the media. A group of 4 participants presented the City of Youthopia project with the different proposals of sustainable practices.
The term “utopia” was created by Thomas More in the 16th century, in the context of humanism, with the goal of urging social transformation. Nowadays the word is associated with chimera and impossibility. To imagine utopia. This was the goal of the exchange. The result, however, was the discovery that a sustainably utopian city is not something impossible. The motivation of the participants to change their own lifestyles and try to spread ideas of sustainability to others, proves precisely that imagining utopia is a very pertinent exercise.
With this youth exchange, the group of participants found out that, more than ever, it is important to dream. In the end of the exchange the union felt by all replaced the tears and the emotion of the goodbyes. The same wish arose in all the participant’s minds: “Let’s create the City of Youthopia”.
This article was written by the Portuguese participants: Diana Alves, Miguel Oliveira, Carolina Pires, Leonardo Nascimento and Rui Landim.