Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for CityLab. He lives in Los Angeles.
A city agency is giving local kids paint and skateboards in the hopes of helping them make their neighborhoods better.
The city of Buenos Aires is paying close attention to its kids. After Mayor Mauricio Macri was re-elected to a second term in July 2011, he put the city's youth high up on his agenda. As a result, the city's Youth Policy Office saw its annual budget soar from $800,000 to $8 million.
All that extra money means the agency can afford to think more broadly about how policy affects young people and how they can engage with the city. While most city-run youth-focused programs tend to concentrate on keeping kids out of trouble or promoting safe sex or training teenagers to enter the workforce, Buenos Aires is using this extra funding to take its youth-centric mission much farther. Through a variety of arts- and culture-based efforts, the Youth Policy Office is engaging the city's most vulnerable youths to help improve some of the Buenos Aires's most dilapidated and derelict areas.
"We're trying to provide artistic solutions to political problems," says Nicolas Pechersky, the Youth Policy Office's general director.
One of the office's newest efforts is focused on making physical improvements to abandoned or unsafe properties and street corners. "There are many corners that people don't want to walk by," Pechersky says. So the agency recruits neighborhood youth to perform a cleanup of the area and to paint murals on walls. It's an effort to turn crime-prone areas back into usable parts of the neighborhood. The first mural painting project was recently completed.
"Everyone was scared of walking down that road," Pechersly says. "We hope that we're going to bring back life to that neighborhood."
The Youth Policy Office has another two mural painting projects in the works, and is on the lookout for more corners or buildings that they can engage neighborhood youth in improving.
In addition to these neighborhood improvement projects, the office is also focusing on providing services and amenities to youth in the city's slums. They're building skateparks and providing free skateboards to young people in these areas in hopes of giving them more access to different parts of the city. Another project helps neighborhood bands play shows in different parts of town to grow their audience.
Key to this work is getting young people involved in their own neighborhoods, says Pechersky.
"We look for ways in which society helps us as a strategically placed partner to make things better," says Pechersky. "They make their own places, and they are engaged with the way we change the city. That way they're more involved and they take more care of the city because they were involved with that change."
Photos courtesy: Buenos Aires Youth Policy Office