A collective and continuing legacy

Author: Bright Pryde-Saha

The Young Urbanists – or YUrbs as they were colloquially called in the early days – were the result of an off-handed comment in response to a call to diversify the membership of the Academy. 

It was at the Academy’s annual End of Year Review in December 2012, and there I was, a volunteer who seeked out the AoU upon arrival in London. I had been volunteering for almost a year, helping with whatever was needed, and I found myself that day helping set up the food and drinks for the distinguished Academicians in attendance. As the discussion progressed, it started to hone in on the general lack of diversity in the membership and the answer seemed so simple and obvious to me that I put up my hand and queried… “why don’t you just invite students and young professionals to be part of the membership?”

A few weeks later, I had support and direction from the Board to make this happen. And so it began…

Similar to the Academy’s beginnings, the Young Urbanists were a mish-mash of passionate urban nerds who wanted to share in the knowledge and practice of good urbanism.

Our first foray into creating the Young Urbanists was a focus group hosted at Space Syntax, our amazing YU sponsors (since the very beginning, I might add). We wanted to be sure that we were creating a group that young people would want to be a part of, so who better to hear from than the youth themselves! In retrospect, I don’t remember everyone who was there or how we even found them, but many of the participants in that original focus group became founding Steering Committee and long-time dedicated members of the Young Urbanists. 

It all seemed to happen in the blink of an eye. Our first event was mere months later in 2013 – ten years ago! 

We took an experimental approach with our events and activities program, thinking up creative ways to engage our members in all things urban. 

We leveraged the Academy’s existing slate of programming and interjected fresh perspectives. 

We curated our own event formats like the 6 x 6 pecha kucha style presentations and even hosted one of our first events in a bakery.  

We gathered for no other reason than to talk-shop with fellow urban geeks at our annual Xmas and summer parties. 

We went galavanting around Europe on bikes simply because we wanted to experience and learn from places that cater for people riding bikes. 

We connected YUs and Academicians in mentoring relationships. 

Heck, at one point we had unspent sponsorship money and were spitballing ideas on how to use it. Looking back on it, it feels like such a flippant decision, but we decided to give the money to our members and support them to do cool things – and the Small Grants Scheme was born. 

I think my favourite calendar staple we concocted was the monthly pub night at The Island Queen in Angel – a nondescript pub set in the heart of a residential neighbourhood. I don’t think I missed a single one in my time running the Young Urbanists. 

It is humbling to see the legacy that remains, the legacy that I fostered, the legacy that we curated… as a collective. I was the conduit, but everyone else was the mastermind. 

Ten years is a milestone indeed, and to see Steering Committee members, peers – and friends, who were made through this incredible group – still actively involved in the YUs after all these years brings a smile to my face. 

Long live the YUrbs!